Russia, china's partner for the moon

Russia, china's partner for the moon

The Russian and Chinese space agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore our natural satellite. Russia will therefore take part in the International Lunar Research Station envisaged by China.

Our celestial neighbour has seen an undeniable renewal in its exploration (see this file). Several countries, including China, have recently sent probes into its orbit or its surface and NASA is preparing the return of astronauts to this destination with its Artemis programme. In this context, Russia has just signed an agreement with China.


The Chinese space agency, CNSA, has carried out several missions around our natural satellite and on its surface. In particular, it successfully achieved the first landing on its dark side in January 2019 with Chang’e 4, then recently brought back samples of the Moon with Chang’e 5. Other Chinese robotic probes are planned in the coming years, such as Chang’e 6 which will take the French instrument, DORN supplied to CNSA by CNES as part of a cooperative venture.

Panorama de l’Océan des Tempêtes par Chang’e 5. Crédit : CNSA/CLEP

Panorama of the Ocean of Storms by Chang’e 5.
Credit : CNSA/CLEP

The Chinese agenda then envisages an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). The concept is intended to be evolutionary, moving from robotic to accommodating men and women on the Moon. CNSA is talking about a base “built on the lunar surface or in lunar orbit which is capable of carrying out multidisciplinary scientific research activities.” This is the project for which the Russian space agency, Roscosmos and its Chinese counterpart, CNSA, signed a memorandum of understanding on 9 March, “with the approval of both governments,” specifies the latter’s press release. It should be noted that China is working on future heavy launchers of comparable power to NASA’s Space Launch System, also under development. Such launchers are needed for manned lunar flights.

Signature de l’accord sur l’ILRS le 9 mars 2021 par les chefs d’agence Zhang Kejian pour la CNSA et Dimitri Rogozin pour Roscosmos à l’occasion d’une visioconférence. Crédit : CNSA

Signature of the agreement on the ILRS on 9 March 2021 by the agency heads, Zhang Kejian for CNSA and Dimitri Rogozin for Roscosmos by videoconference.
Credit : CNSA

For its Artemis programme to return to the Moon (Gateway station) and the surface, NASA already has partners in the European Space Agency (ESA),the Japanese agency (JAXA) and that of Canada (ASC). That includes four of the five agencies which are involved in the International Space Station (ISS). The only one missing is the Russian agency, Roscosmos. Its Director-General, Dimitri Rogozin, has, however, expressed reservations on several occasions as regards Artemis. Signing with China for its International Lunar Research Station is therefore no surprise.

Illustrations du concept de l’International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Crédit : CNSA/CLEP/CAST

Illustrations of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) concept..