China and Russia’s Joint Venture Belt and Road to the Moon

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  • Russia, China planning permanent lunar base

Russia and China have signed a memorandum agreeing to create an international lunar research station, as Moscow and Beijing look to amalgamate their expertise to further advance space exploration. While Russia has a long history of space exploration, China has only recently begun to make exploring the cosmos one of its priorities.

Dmitry Rogozin, the CEO of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and his Chinese counterpart Zhang Kejian of the China National Space Administration signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding of Lunar cooperation on Tuesday. This is not the first time Russia and China have pledged to work with each other, having signed a space cooperation program in 2017 that is due to run until 2022. This new agreement supersedes that and includes plans for an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) would be “open to all interested countries and international partners.”

The MoU describes the ILRS as a “comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation, built on the lunar surface and/or on the lunar orbit that will carry out multi-disciplinary and multi-objective scientific research activities such as the lunar exploration and utilization, lunar-based observation, basic scientific experiment and technical verification.”

There may be some diplomatic work to complete beforehand – Russia and China are two of the nations yet to sign the Artemis Accords, a NASA-driven agreement on civil exploration of the earth’s natural satellite.

Neither country has ever landed a human crew on the moon, and they did not set a target date to begin construction of the ILRS. However, Russia remains a leading spacefaring country after the space race of the 20th century, and China has built increasingly impressive space stations and probes in recent years.

While CNSA said that the ILRS is open to any country that might want to get involved, and the United States has worked with Russian astronauts in space since the 1970s, NASA does not work with China, as the United States froze China out of the International Space Station project in the 1980s and 1990s. The US Congress and President Barack Obama made it illegal in 2011 for NASA to collaborate in any way with any Chinese entity or for U.S. suppliers to sell satellite parts to China.

These moves haven’t stopped China from building its own space stations. And now, as the International Space Station ages, it seems the policy won’t stop Russia — the most significant partner the U.S. has in that project — from taking its talents to this collaboration. But, if the moon base gets built and no rules change, the no-collaboration rule may stop U.S. astronauts from visiting the first permanent facility on the moon.

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