Russia and China on Tuesday unveiled plans for a joint lunar space station, as Moscow seeks to recapture the glory of the Soviet Union’s space pioneering days and Beijing gears up its own extraterrestrial ambitions.
Moscow, once at the forefront of space travel, has been eclipsed by Beijing and Washington, which have both clocked major wins in space exploration and research in recent years.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a statement that it had signed an agreement with the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) to develop a “complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the moon.”
The CNSA said that the project was “open to all interested countries and international partners” in what experts said would be China’s biggest international space cooperation project to date.
Roscosmos Director-General Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter that he had invited CNSA Director Zhang Kejian (張克儉) to the launch of Russia’s first modern lunar lander, Luna 25, scheduled for Oct. 1 — the first lunar lander to be launched by Russia since 1976.
Moscow and Washington are also collaborating in the space sector, but Russia did not sign the US-led Artemis Accord last year for countries that want to participate in a lunar exploration scheme spearheaded by NASA.
Under the Artemis program announced during the tenure of former US president Donald Trump, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.
In another blow to Russia’s space reputation, Roscosmos last year lost its monopoly for crewed flights to the International Space Station after the first successful mission of the US company SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has become a key player in the modern space race and has announced plans to fly several members of the public to the moon in 2023 on a trip bankrolled by a Japanese millionaire.
A SpaceX Starship prototype exploded after landing in Texas in March, after climbing to an altitude of 10km.
The test flight was part of the company’s ambitious project to take people to Mars.
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