Some say the sky is the limit, but with Russia and China working together it appears the moon – or perhaps beyond – is more like it.
Under an agreement signed last week by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), scientists from the two countries will team up to launch Russia’s Luna 26 lunar polar orbiter in 2022 and coordinate the implementation of the Chinese space mission to the Moon’s South Pole, which is planned for 2023.
“In addition, the partners agreed to establish a joint Russian-Chinese Data Center on lunar projects and outer space, and expressed readiness to involve scientific and industrial organizations and companies of Russia and China, if needed,” reads a statement issued by Roscosmos on March 3.
With an aim to create a fully robotic lunar base, space-faring Russia is planning to launch five missions to the moon between 2019 and 2024 within its Roscosmos-led exploration program, known as the Luna-Glob.
According to some estimates, the cost of the entire program will be about 39 billion rubles, or about $683 million.
The Luna 26, or Luna-Resurs orbiter, is the second Russian mission after the Luna-Glob lander (Luna-25), whose launch had been postponed several times since 2013 and is now rescheduled for 2019. Unlike the Luna-25, which will be used to test the universal landing system on the moon itself, the second mission will explore the moon remotely within a year, while orbiting at an altitude of about 200 km. The activities of the Luna 26 include the mapping of the lunar surface, as well as exploration of the exosphere, lunar plasma, cosmic dust and ultra-high energy particles.
Alexander Zheleznyakov, a scientist at the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics believes that the China-made devices will be installed onboard the Luna-26 within the help of Beijing.
“In recent years, it is a common practice to equip interplanetary stations [belonging] to a specific country with devices [manufactured] by the other countries – our devices were [installed] at the American lunar [orbiters], on the Mars rovers,” Zheleznyakov told RT on Sunday.
China, in turn, is expected Russia will help when scientists there launch the Chang’e 6 unmanned Chinese lunar exploration mission, named after moon goddess of the same name, within the CSNA-led moon exploration program.
The Chang’e 6, which is currently under development, is a sample-return mission – a spacecraft mission with the goal of collecting and returning with tangible samples from an extraterrestrial location to Earth for analysis. While the first mission took place in 2007, when Chang’e 1 scanned the entire Moon in unprecedented detail and generated a high definition, three-dimensional map, the launch of the sixth mission is expected after 2020.
“The Chinese are interested in the work that we once carried out on the moon, [including] landing technology, as well as studies to create a long-term scientific base. Of course, they would like to use our experience to inscribe it in their own program,” Zheleznyakov said, referring to the Soviet-era Luna program that was carried out between 1959 and 1976.
At the same time, Saturday’s agreement is not the only one of its kind for the two countries. In late 2017, Roscosmos and CNSA signed a space cooperation program for the period of 2018-2022. The document provides for the joint study of the moon and outer space, cooperation on Earth remote sensing data, and monitoring of space debris.