China’s offer to collaborate on a lunar mission presents a significant opportunity for international cooperation in space exploration, particularly in the context of setting up a permanent habitat on the south pole of the moon. This move aligns with China’s ambition to become a major space power by 2030 and lays the groundwork for the construction of the Beijing-led International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the 2030s.
In recent years, China has made significant strides in its space program, deploying uncrewed probes and conducting missions to retrieve soil samples from the moon. The upcoming Chang’e-8 mission, which aims to search for lunar resources on the moon’s south pole, will be followed by the Chang’e-7 mission in 2026. These missions will not only contribute to scientific research but also pave the way for the establishment of the ILRS.
China’s timeline for building an outpost on the moon’s south pole coincides with NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to put U.S. astronauts back on the lunar surface by December 2025. However, due to a ban imposed by U.S. law, NASA is prohibited from collaborating with China directly or indirectly. This limitation highlights the importance of China’s offer to international partners, as it provides an alternative avenue for cooperation in lunar exploration.
While NASA has signed the Artemis Accords with 29 countries, including India, China and Russia have not become signatories. China has only secured participation from Russia and Venezuela for its lunar station program so far. This divergence in international collaboration efforts underscores the potential for differing approaches and strategies in space exploration.
By opening up its lunar mission to international cooperation, China not only demonstrates its commitment to global scientific collaboration but also recognizes the value of shared resources, knowledge, and expertise in advancing space exploration. This collaborative approach can foster innovation, accelerate progress, and promote a more sustainable and inclusive future for space exploration.
As the deadlines for these lunar missions approach, interested parties have until December 31 to submit a letter of intent to the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The final selection of proposals will be made in September 2024, marking an important milestone in the development of international partnerships in lunar exploration.
In conclusion, China’s offer to collaborate on a lunar mission presents an exciting opportunity for international cooperation in space exploration. By welcoming countries and international organizations to participate in its Chang’e-8 mission and jointly carry out “mission-level” projects, China is laying the foundations for the construction of the International Lunar Research Station. This collaborative approach not only aligns with China’s ambition to become a major space power but also promotes shared resources, knowledge, and expertise in advancing space exploration. As the deadlines for these missions loom, the global community has a chance to come together and shape the future of lunar exploration.