China and Russia team up for future lunar missions

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, and the China National Space Agency are teaming up for future lunar missions involving an orbiter and lander that will be ground for further research of the moon’s surface.

The joint lunar exploration of the moon announcement by Russia and China was made shortly after a meeting of heads of government in St. Petersburg.

The two space agencies told that the team-up would be responsible for developing necessary technologies that would utilize Roscosmos’ Luna orbiter spacecraft and China National Space Agency’s Chang’e lunar orbiter.

Specifically, Roscosmos detailed that the cooperation will combine the two space assets in China’s Chang’e-7 polar landing mission with the Luna-26 orbiter spacecraft. Both missions are currently scheduled for the early-to-mid 2020s.

The two sides also committed to previously announced plans to create a joint lunar and deep space data center, which will consist of hubs in both Russia and China. 

The documents were signed Tuesday by Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, and Zhang Keqiang, head of the China National Space Administration.

Notably, this will not be the first time for both space agencies to work together in space exploration efforts. Russia assisted China’s Chang’e-4 lunar far side landing mission with the provision of a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. This technology helped develop preliminary research on ultrasonic drilling techniques for detecting water within extraterrestrial surfaces, which are both being carried out by Russian and Chinese universities.

The collaboration hints as the international space community are recognizing China’s abilities in conducting space missions. One example of which is the country’s rapid small satellite development and deployment and even the country’s growing private space companies who also assist the Chinese government in its space endeavors.

Just last month, in September, Chinese space company ExPace launched a small satellite deployment spacecraft, Kuaizhou-1A, which marks the 16th launch from a Chinese-owned commercial space deployment service in 2019 alone.

However, ExPace’s achievement of a successful deployment only marks the 5th successful launch from Chinese commercial space companies.  

The first successful orbital launch was by a Chinese private company, iSpace, which happened in July. OneSpace followed this in March and Landspace in October last year. Linkspace, another private launch company, performed a 300-meter hop test with a technology verification rocket on August 12. The fifth was from China Rocket, also in August. 

More significantly, the International space community praise the China National Space Agency for its achievement in lunar exploration because it is the only country to successfully land softly on the moon within the past four decades.

In January, as part of China’s current moon mission, the country’s Chang’e 4 lander and Yutu 2 rover became the first robots to operate on the far side of the moon.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos has been participating in a long hiatus from lunar missions, but their Luna spacecraft remains to be an icon in space exploration history.

Notably, Luna 9 was the first successful lunar lander, which the Soviet Union launched in 1966.

Also, Roscosmos’ just recently updated its space launch vehicle called Soyuz with new rocket boosters called the Soyuz 2.1a. However, the first testing of the new rockets encountered a brief hiccup as it attempted to dock on the ISS automatically.

Roscosmos determined that the new rocket was not to blame but the automatic rendezvous system aboard the ISS.

China, on the other hand, has a flawless record at the moon, beginning with its 2007 mission, Chang’e 1. In relation, China has sketched out an ambitious lunar plan, with four future missions under discussion.

Chang’e 5 will launch in the next year and is designed to be China’s first sample-return mission. Chang’e 6 will fetch a sample from the lunar south pole in 2023, and Chang’e 7 will explore that region in detail. Another mission will begin progress on China’s long-term goal of establishing a science base on the moon.

Rogozin, the head of the Roscosmos space agency, recently walked through those plans, citing a 2024 orbiter, a 2028 sample-return mission, and human flights in 2029 or 2030.

And on September 17, Rogozin and his Chinese counterpart, Kejian, agreed to work together on lunar projects, according to a statement from Roscosmos. They plan to build a shared data center, with one outpost in each country, for lunar and deep-space research.

They also agreed that China’s Chang’e 7 lander and orbiter Luna 26 would help Chang’e 7 find a safe landing site. Each spacecraft may also carry scientific instruments from the other country, assuming scientific analysis proves that would be beneficial.

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