The Guardian • Issue #2104

Beijing expands circle of friends with moonbase project

First gathering of two Chinese astronaut crews (Shenzhou 14 and 15) on Tiangong on November 30, 2022.

First gathering of two Chinese astronaut crews (Shenzhou 14 and 15) on Tiangong on November 30, 2022. Photo: China Manned Space Engineering Office / science.org (CC BY 4.0)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law his country’s cooperation with China on the construction of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, as Beijing proactively advocates global participation in the joint exploration of the vast universe, with the latest effort being the inclusion of Egypt and Bahrain in China’s next Chang’e mission.

Some 12 more countries and international organisations have signed on to the ambitious initiative, Sergey Savelyev, deputy general director for International Cooperation at Russian state space agency Roscosmos, said in May.

This will bring the total number of ILRS partners to more than 30 countries and organisations. The ILRS has already attracted over 20 signatories from various countries and organisations.

Chinese researchers said that basalt will be considered as a material to build the lunar base, the same material used to “knit” the Chinese national flag that was proudly unfurled on the far side of the moon on 4 June.

Using local materials on the moon to build the base will save a lot of resources compared to sourcing materials from Earth, and the lunar surface is rich in basalt, which can be cut into sheet or tube forms for construction purpose.

After China carried out a perfect landing of the Chang’e-6 probe on the far side of the moon and brought precious lunar soils back to the Earth, the country’s national space administration announced that a payload co-developed by Egypt and Bahrain will board China’s next lunar mission – the Chang’e-7, scheduled to launch around 2026 to survey the lunar south pole environment.

The payload is a lunar surface material hyperspectral imaging instrument, the report said.

The international payloads that the Chang’e-7 mission is scheduled to bring include six from seven countries and organisations, namely Egypt, Bahrain, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Thailand, and the US-based International Lunar Observatory Association.

With China’s repeated success in deep space exploration, the prospects for its international cooperation will further expand, Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times.

“For one thing, China has, through a series of successful space missions, demonstrated an exceptionally high capability and reliability. This serves as a prerequisite for a good partnership, where richer samples and more ideal scientific results can be better achieved,” Wang noted.

Furthermore, China has always maintained an open and inclusive attitude toward international cooperation rare in today’s complex global landscape, experts said. While the US is busy chanting the ‘China threat’ rhetoric in a so-called space race, China has been walking steadily step by step and produced rich, concrete results.

Commenting on China and Russia jointly building the ILRS, Wang said it will have a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” effect.

Russia’s advantage lies in its expertise in astrophysics and chemistry from its past experience with lunar exploration missions during the Soviet era. China can bridge Russia’s gap in resources and talents with its abundant economic and engineering advantages.

China’s rapid growth in aerospace technology has led to the development of reliable engineering resources, including a space station, various kinds of spacecraft and carrier rockets. With well-planned investments and a growing pool of young talent, China and Russia can complement each other well in the field, Wang said.

Global Times

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