Mar 9, 2021 - Science

Russia and China want to build a Moon station together

The Moon hovering above the blue limb of the Earth

Photo: NASA

Russia and China today announced that the two nations plan to cooperate to create a scientific research station on the Moon.

Why it matters: Countries are turning their attention to landing people on the Moon in the coming years, and this partnership between China and Russia — a long-time U.S. partner in space — shows just how much the geopolitical landscape in space is changing.

Details: Russia and China today signed a memorandum of understanding stating the two countries will work together to build the International Scientific Lunar Station.

  • The station "is a complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the Moon, designed to carry out multidisciplinary and multipurpose research work," Russia's statement says.
  • The base will focus on exploration and "use of the Moon," fundamental research, and technology development, and will have uncrewed capabilities as well as open up the "prospect of a human presence on the Moon," the statement says.
  • The two nations haven't yet released details about what each will be responsible for when it comes to building and operating the station.

The intrigue: This move appears to signal that Russia plans to move away from cooperation with the U.S. and other nations involved in the International Space Station once that program ends by the end of the decade.

  • Russia has not signed the Artemis Accords, which is led by the U.S. and aims to govern international exploration of the Moon. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's space agency, called NASA’s Artemis program to land astronauts back on the Moon too “U.S. centric.”
  • However, Russia and China's plans likely won't affect the Artemis program.
  • “The space partnership with Russia in the ISS was driven more by national security and foreign policy reasons than a need to have Russian expertise," the Secure World Foundation's Brian Weeden told SpaceNews in February. "It’s useful, but not critical."

Go deeper: The International Space Station's end will mix up space geopolitics

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