The Russian space agency Roscosmos signed an agreement this week with the Chinese National Space Administration on the joint construction of what they call the International Lunar Science Station.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments is the latest sign that Russia sees its future in space as a cooperative effort primarily with the Chinese space program and not with NASA, Her main partner for the last 25 years.
NASA has invited Russia to join a US-led lunar project known as Artemis.
The Russian Space Agency said in a statement published after the signing of the memorandum that the project with China “will be guided by the principles of equal distribution of rights and responsibilities” and will enhance cooperation … with open access to all interested countries and international partners. Signed on Tuesday.
Download NBC News app For breaking news and Policy
Roscosmos’ statement said the aim of the lunar station with China is to promote scientific cooperation and to promote “the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.”
This formulation echoes Russian criticism for Project Artemis led by NASA, Which also proposes the establishment of a space station orbiting the moon as a basis for a broader international effort to explore the surface of the moon.
Last year, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin criticized NASA’s efforts as a kind of NATO political project in space.
“With the lunar project, we notice that our American partners deviate from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that were developed during the cooperation on the International Space Station. They see that their program is not international,” Rogozin told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in July. But it is similar to NATO, and added, “We are not interested in participating in such a project.”
NASA and Roscosmos are the main partners responsible for building and operating International Space Station, Or ISS, a project launched 20 years ago that served as the ultimate expression of the post-Cold War reconciliation between Russia and the United States.
But this relationship appears to be slowly eroding as the broader relationship between the United States and Russia deteriorates.
The Soviet Union launched the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, For nearly 60 years, sparking an intense race with the United States. The The United States puts astronauts on the surface of the moon Eight years later.
Moscow has never landed astronauts on the moon, and in recent years its space program has faltered, as it grapples with issues of corruption and quality control, while the US commercial space industry and the Chinese space program have moved forward, threatening to overtake Moscow that was once upon a time. a program.
In China, the state daily Global Times ran a front-page article celebrating the deal with Russia, explaining to its readers that Washington was trying to position itself to dictate terms for future international activity on the moon and beyond, in deep space.
“To participate in shaping the direction of space exploration and have a say in setting the rules, China and Russia should be on the front lines of space exploration and promote balance and equity with real force and actions,” she said.
The MoUs are nothing more than first steps towards the project, but they are symbolic and indicate the political ebb and flow of all space programs – be it Russia, China, or the United States.
In the near term, Russia and China say they will coordinate various robotic missions to explore the moon.
NASA is banned by the US government from cooperating with the Chinese space agency. China’s space program, operating in relative isolation, has made great strides in the past decade. Unable to join the International Space Station, Beijing has focused on creating its own national space stations.
Details of what its proposed lunar station with Russia will look like is currently unclear.
Roscosmos’ statement said it would be “a complex of experimental research facilities established on the surface and / or in the lunar orbit” to facilitate a large variety of research and exploration efforts, both with and without crews.
In other words, the International Moon Station looks very much like a Russian-Chinese response to the NASA-led Artemis project.
Projects like these take years to get off the ground, and the first Russian-Chinese memorandum represents a long list of required steps. And although Russia has not formally accepted NASA’s invitation to join Project Artemis, it has not yet officially rejected it.
“I think this is kind of a diplomatic bargaining game,” Pavel Luzhin, an independent Russian space policy analyst, told NBC News. “Russia has nothing to offer China in the Chinese-led moon program, and Russia definitely needs to continue space cooperation with the United States and Europe (as well as with Japan and Canada) after the International Space Station program ends.”
Luzhin says it remains unclear whether Rogozin’s harsh rhetoric about the Artemis project represents official Russian policy.
“Rogozin said that we will not join Artemis, but it seems that this is probably just his personal opinion and not the official and final decision of Russia,” says Luzhin.