The Chinese and Russian space agencies signed a joint agreement on Tuesday to build a research base on the Moon, marking the first plans to build a lunar scientific base and the largest space collaboration for China to date.
Held through a video conference, the deed was given the catchy name of "Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Russian Federation on Cooperative Construction of International Lunar Research Stations" (MNLS).
The proposed stations will be orbiting the moon and/or located on its surface. The deed makes it clear that the base will be international, welcoming astronauts from any country that wishes to embark and will "promote the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes for the interests of all mankind."
The base will be put in place to further humanities’ efforts on the moon, performing research with the goal of eventual human presence on the moon.
“The International Lunar Research Station is a comprehensive scientific experiment base built on the lunar surface or on the lunar orbit that can carry out multidisciplinary and multi-objective scientific research activities such as the moon's own exploration and utilization, lunar-based observation, basic scientific experiment and technical verification, and long-term autonomous operation.” states the press release from the China National Space Administration.
Whilst the announcement is exciting, the moon base is likely a long way off still. An official time frame has not yet been set for the construction of the base – but with China planning to send astronauts to the moon by the 2030s, it is unlikely the base will be constructed before then. In the meantime, the MNLS states that Russia and China will jointly create a roadmap for the research and construction towards the station.
China has been uncharacteristically active in pushing further into space in recent years. Close on the heels of SpaceX’s success with reusable rockets, China launched a reusable experimental rocket in September 2020, named the Long March 2F rocket. The launch was a success in both takeoff and landing, paving the way to China’s eventual goal of a permanent space presence.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is also dreaming big for the near future, with plans to launch the Luna-Glob Moon orbiter in 2021, as well as the planned Venera-D Venus lander aims at touchdown in 2029.
With the race to Mars fully underway, it looks like the race to a moon base is just beginning – the 2020s is shaping up to be a decade packed with space exploration.