China seeks partners to build an inhabited base on the Moon

Beijing has opened its doors to Moscow and international collaboration to install an inhabited science station in our natural satellite in the 2030s
China and Russia have to cooperate. Russia's President Vladimir Putin is reluctant to limit himself to watching his neighbour Xi Jinping lead a project to put his feet on the moon

PHOTO/Presidency Russia  -   China and Russia have to cooperate. Russia's President Vladimir Putin is reluctant to limit himself to watching his neighbour Xi Jinping lead a project to put his feet on the moon

With the green light from the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping himself, Chinese engineers and space scientists are working at cruising speed on the design of what could become the first human base on the Moon.

With the Beijing authorities' firm intention to have their astronauts set foot on the moon in the near future, the plans drawn up by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) have opened the door to the presence of third country space agencies in the project.

The initiative has been named the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and has already been submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

La Estación Internacional de Investigación Lunar de China se levantará en las cercanías del polo sur, con mayores posibilidades de extraer agua y oxígeno, imprescindibles para la supervivencia de los astronautas.
PHOTO/CNSA - China's International Lunar Research Station will be built near the South Pole, with greater possibilities of extracting water and oxygen, essential for the survival of astronauts.

The first studies presented by the CNSA suggest that the ILRS will be built near the lunar south pole, where there is more chance of extracting natural resources that can be converted into water and oxygen, which are essential for the survival of astronauts.

The initial missions will begin in a few years' time and will continue throughout the decade with a first series of robotic missions under the Chang'e programme, named after the Chinese moon goddess. If necessary, the missions will continue until the early 2030s.

The goal is to have a solid temporary base by mid-2030 where several teams of astronauts can live and work for short periods of time and from which they can deploy land and air vehicles. Current CNSA plans envisage a prolonged human presence for the period 2036-2045.

En primer plano, el director de la Administración Nacional del Espacio de China (CNSA), Zhang Kejian (izquierda), junto al presidente de la Agencia Espacial de Francia (CNES), Jean-Yves Le Gall (centro), y el administrador de la NASA, Jim Bridenstine, con las manos en los bolsillos. En la medida de lo posible, Bridenstine intenta evitar estrechar relaciones con la CNSA para evitar plagios de tecnología
PHOTO/CNES - In the foreground, the Director of China's National Space Administration (CNSA), Zhang Kejian (left), with the President of the French Space Agency (CNES), Jean-Yves Le Gall (centre), and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine with their hands in their pockets. As far as possible, Bridenstine is trying to avoid close relations with the CNSA in order to avoid plagiarizing technology
An international scientific base under Chinese command

The aim of the project is to build and operate the first scientific station for humanity at the lunar South Pole. The astronauts stationed there would undertake long-term scientific experiments and try to make the most of all the resources provided by our natural satellite.

The gamble of having a foreign presence in China's great space plans is not due to a need to obtain economic resources. It represents the implementation of a global strategy aimed at involving the space powers, such as Russia, Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and even the United States, which is reluctant to collaborate in space matters.

The new space policy is also aimed at attracting to its sphere of influence the emerging countries of Asia, Africa and South America, which have so far been absent from the International Space Station and the future Gateway orbital complex, both led by the United States, with the participation of Europe, Japan and Russia.

La plataforma orbital lunar Gateway es un proyecto liderado por la NASA con la finalidad de servir de puente al despliegue de astronautas a la superficie lunar
PHOTO/NASA - The Gateway Lunar Orbital Platform is a project led by NASA to bridge the deployment of astronauts to the lunar surface

The first steps in the ILRS project involving third countries are the Chang'e-6, 7 and 8 robotic exploratory missions. Both the Russian Federal Space Agency -Roscosmos- and the European Space Agency (ESA) have been in talks for some time with China to determine the terms of their contribution.

Of course, the nation that is observing China's ambitious lunar project most closely is Russia, which is overwhelmed by the magnitude of China's initiatives in all areas of the space field.

With the approval of President Vladimir Putin, the management teams of Dimitri Rogozin, the top leader of Roscosmos, and Zhang Kejian, who has been in charge of the CNSA-the Chinese equivalent of Roscosmos-since May 2018, are in continuous contact in order to determine Russia's contribution to the construction of the international lunar research station.

El máximo responsable de la Agencia espacial de Rusia, Dimitri Rogozin, y su equivalente chino, Zhang Kejian, mantienen estrechos contactos para determinar la contribución de Rusia a la construcción de la estación internacional de investigación lunar
PHOTO/Roscosmos - The head of the Russian Space Agency, Dimitri Rogozin, and his Chinese equivalent, Zhang Kejian, are in close contact to determine Russia's contribution to the construction of the International Lunar Research Station
Russia and Europe, the first stakeholders

In September last year both parties signed two agreements to cooperate and coordinate the missions that both countries plan to place in orbit from 2024: China's Chang'e-7 and Russia's Luna-26.

Russia is committed to contributing its technology to the Chang'e-7 mission, which will provide images of the South Pole area and search for the presence of ice in the area. China, for its part, will contribute to Russia's Luna-26, an orbiter with 14 instruments that will be used to map the entire lunar surface and study the impact of the solar wind and high-energy cosmic rays. Chang'e-7 will be followed by Chang'e-8 in 2027, whose experiments include 3D printing tests.

China quiere tener a mediados de 2030 una base científica internacional temporal en la que astronautas puedan llevar a cabo experimentos y desplegar ingenios terrestres y aéreos. Y hacerla permanente en el periodo 2036-2045.
PHOTO/NASA - China wants to have a temporary international science base by mid-2030 where astronauts can conduct experiments and deploy ground and airborne devices. And make it permanent in the period 2036-2045.

ESA also maintains a special interest in all Beijing initiatives open to cooperation, especially its plans for lunar exploration. It has even had a senior manager responsible for relations with China, the Swede Karl Bergquist, since 1993.

Bergquist says the Agency is following "very closely" the various Chang'e missions and the ILRS initiative to find "common programmatic interests". The ILRS project bears many similarities to the "moon village" concept proposed by ESA's Director General, Germany's Jan Woerner, who took office on 1 July 2015 but whose mandate expires on 30 June 2021. 

China mantiene en la cara oculta de la Luna el pequeño vehículo todo terreno de 140 kilos Yutu-2 desde enero de 2019
PHOTO/CNSA - China has been keeping the 140-kilogram Yutu-2 small all-terrain vehicle on the dark side of the moon since January 2019

Current plans are to launch the Chang'e-5 mission at the end of this year, very possibly in the last days of November. The 8.2-tonne mission is intended to bring in lunar samples to analyse the composition of the soil. If successful, the Chang'e-6 mission would take off in 2023-2024 with the aim of landing near the lunar south pole and studying the area. Otherwise, it would try to repeat the failed mission assigned to Chang'e-5

Since January 2019 China has been keeping the small 140-kilogram all-terrain vehicle Yutu-2 (in Spanish, conejo de jade 2), deployed from the Chang'e-4 probe, launched into space in December 2018, on the hidden side of the Moon.