Russia and China reveal lunar research station plans

China and Russia plan to collaborate on a new lunar research station, located either on the moon or in orbit around it, as space agencies in the two countries mount an alternative to NASA's Artemis program. The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) is designed to operate autonomously on the lunar surface or in lunar orbit, or potentially both, and act as a hub for science experiments and further exploration of the moon.

The memorandum of understanding signed this week will see the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos enter a "co consultation, joint construction, and shared benefits" arrangement. However, it will be "open to all interested countries and international partners," the two claim.

The goal of the ILRS is to "strengthen scientific research exchanges, and promote humanity's exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purpose" the CNSA said in a statement. It will be "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."

Russia currently works with NASA on the International Space Station, along with Japan's JAXA, Europe's ESA, and Canada's CSA. However neither Roscosmos nor the CNSA are not currently involved in NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon and establish a lunar presence. That will then be used as a staging post for further crewed missions, such as to Mars, which NASA hopes to undertake in the 2030s.

Exact details on China and Russia's ILRS plans are in short supply at present. The agreement inked this week will start the development of a roadmap for how the new lunar research base will be constructed and over what timescale. It'll involve deciding whether a base on the moon's surface is most practical, or some sort of orbiting space station around it. The two space agencies have left room to incorporate both ideas, even, if that's deemed most beneficial.

It's not the first time the two countries have collaborated on space projects. The two are also working together on lunar and deep space exploration, among other projects. Neither has signed onto NASA's Artemis Accords, a set of broad agreements which include commitments to peaceful exploration, offering emergency assistance to personnel from other space agencies, compliance with the Outer Space Treaty, and registering space objects along with developing methods to dispose of space debris.