Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin recently said that Moscow and Beijing are close to signing the agreement on the creation of the joint lunar station.
“We are now almost ready to sign an intergovernmental agreement on the establishment of a lunar research base with China,” Rogozin said in an interview with state broadcaster Rossiya 24.
As EurAsian Times reported earlier, China and Russia are leading the opposition to the US-led space bloc, called the Artemis Accords, made up of 19 countries, which aims to send a manned mission to the Moon by 2025 and to establish a governance framework for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, on the Moon, Mars and beyond.
The mission intends to build a research station at the south pole of the Moon with a supporting research station in orbit around the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway.
As part of this program, an uncrewed mission to the Moon, Artemis 1, should be launched as early as July 2022.
China and Russia are promoting their own International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) as an alternative to the US-led Artemis program.
This joint Sino-Russian mission aims to build a lunar base and install a space station in lunar orbit. The station is planned to be a state-of-the-art experimental research facility created on the surface or in orbit of the Moon.
Roadmap for the International Lunar Research Station
Last June, Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) presented a roadmap for ILRS at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2021).
According to the roadmap, divided into three phases, five facilities and nine modules are planned for the station to support long and short missions on the surface and in orbit of the Moon. Construction of the station is expected to be completed by 2035.
These facilities include a CisLunar transport facility to support round-trip transfer between Earth and the Moon, lunar orbit, soft landing, liftoff on the lunar surface, and reentry to Earth.
On the surface, a long-term support facility will include a command center, power and supply modules, and thermal management. The Lunar Transport and Mining Facility will help modules move the surface and support excavation or sampling.
The other two are the Lunar Science Facility for In-Orbit and Surface Experiments and the Ground Support and Application Facility.
As for the modules, the designs would include a “hopping robot” and intelligent mini-rovers that move around the Moon’s surface.
First phase of construction of the ILRS
The station is expected to be built in three phases, with the first phase involving six missions, including China’s Chang’e-4, 6, and 7 missions and Russia’s Luna 25, 26, and 27 missions. verify high-precision soft landings expected to last until 2025.
The Chang’e-4 (CE-4) mission delivered a landing platform and rover named Yutu-2 to the far side of the Moon in January 2019, marking the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon. the Moon by any country.
Yutu-2 landed in the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin of the Moon in January 2019. The purpose of CE-4 is to explore the geology of the region. The CE-6 and CE-7 are expected to launch around 2025.
The CE-6 is supposed to bring lunar samples with a mass of up to 2 kilograms back to Earth, and the CE-7 will be responsible for landing at the lunar South Pole and detecting local natural resources.
CE-7 is composed of five separate spacecraft, namely an orbiter, a lander, a rover, a jump probe and a polar relay satellite.
Meanwhile, Russia also plans to launch its Luna-25 mission in August 2022, reviving the series of Soviet-era robotic lunar missions that ended decades ago. The last in the series was Luna 24, which returned about 6 ounces (170 grams) of lunar material to Earth in 1976.
The Luna-25 lunar probe will launch atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket with a Fregat upper stage from the Vostochny spaceport in the far eastern Amur region. The probe’s primary landing destination is the Moon’s south polar region, specifically a location north of the Boguslavsky crater.
According to the Russian Rocket Design Bureau, NPO Lavochkin built the Luna 25 lander. There are three main tasks for this mission: developing soft landing technology; study the internal structure and exploration of natural resources, including water, in the circumpolar region of the Moon; and study the effects of cosmic rays and electromagnetic radiation on the surface of the Moon.
Additionally, Luna 25 is also expected to use a suite of onboard sensors to study the lunar top and dust particles in the Moon’s exosphere.
Luna 25 also had a camera called Pilot-D, a demonstration terrain relative navigation system, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ESA announced its decision in April to end cooperation on Russia’s Luna series of robotic lunar missions. From now on, Pilot-D will not be part of the Luna 25 mission.
While the Luna 26 and Luna 27, which were to be launched in 2024 and 2025 respectively, will also be postponed, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin announced shortly after ESA ended its cooperation.
Second and third phases of the ILRS
After the completion of the first phase in 2025, which could be delayed considering the possible postponement of Luna 26 and Luna 27, phase two called the “construction” phase will begin in 2026, and this is expected to continue until 2035.
The construction phase will be divided into two sub-stages, the first from 2026 to 2030, which will involve verification of technology, return of samples, mass delivery of goods and the start of joint operations. Two missions are planned during this period, the Chinese CE-8 and the Russian Luna-28.
The second stage of the second phase will take place from 2030 to 2035 and will consist of completing the infrastructure in orbit and on the lunar surface for energy, communication, real use of resources and other technologies.
Five joint missions are planned for this sub-stage, named ILRS-1 to 5 and Russian super-heavy launchers are listed to launch the mission.
Phase three will see the start of crewed landings after 2036, when the ILRS will be largely complete and humans can conduct research and exploration.
Meanwhile, China and Russia are looking to add more countries to the ILRS and negotiations have been reported with ESA, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. However, since ESA withdrew from the Russian Luna series of lunar missions during the Ukraine war, the project will likely be much less attractive to other nations.