China and Russia have signed an agreement on the international lunar research station

On Tuesday, the heads of China’s and Russia’s space agencies penned a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the creation of a joint international lunar research station. Via a conference call on March 9, Zhang Kejian, who serves as the head in charge of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), as well as Dmitry Rogozin, who is the General Director of Roscosmos, ratified the agreement.

The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) is an interdisciplinary as well as multi-objective scientific exploratory base established on the lunar surface or even in the lunar orbit which can engage in activities such as discovery and exploration, lunar-centered observation, fundamental scientific experiment, and technological verification, as well as a long-term autonomous activity.

The project will be “available to all eligible countries and foreign partners,” according to CNSA and Roscosmos’ statements. Though not mentioned specifically, it is assumed that the ILRS will be built at lunar south pole. Both parties will use their combined expertise in space science, research as well as development, and the usage of the space equipment and technology to create a clear roadmap for the creation of the international lunar scientific research station, according to the press releases.

Following the robotic process of the mission, Roscosmos sees the possibility of human habitation on the moon. As SpaceNews announced in February, the signing of the agreement was scheduled. “This Memorandum of Understanding suits the broader pattern of Russia edging closer to China,” Bleddyn Bowen, an international affairs lecturer at the University of Leicester situated in the United Kingdom, informed SpaceNews in February.

Russia and China previously agreed to collaborate on the Chang’e-7 as well as Luna 27 missions, as well as establish a joint data facility for lunar as well as deep space investigation.  The European Space Agency is also active in negotiations, having recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NASA agency on the Gateway.

“At ESA, we are closely watching the Chinese lunar exploration ambitions to see where our separate programmatic interests could intersect, mainly the CE-6, -7, as well as -8 missions, but also for the ILRS initiative,” Karl Bergquist, who is the ESA’s international relations administrator, informed SpaceNews last year.

Following the acceptance of the first series of missions in the 2000s, the ILRS idea evolved into an extended phase of Chinese lunar exploration. China has deployed two lunar orbiters, two landers as well as rover missions, and a Chang’e-5 lunar sample return flight in late 2020.