China and Russia are joining forces to build a research station on the Moon by 2035, officials from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) have confirmed.

The plans were announced today to build the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), which will rival NASA’s Lunar Gateway.

It is claimed the venture is part of China’s plan to land its first astronauts on the Moon.

The two countries aim to complete basic infrastructure construction for the station by 2035, Wu Yanhua, the CNSA deputy director, told a briefing in Beijing.

But while NASA’s Lunar Gateway will only orbit the moon, the ILRS will have both an orbiter and a base on the lunar surface, as well as multiple exploration rovers.

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Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China’s National Space Administration

“We welcome the extensive participation of international colleagues,” Wu said on Friday.

This comes after Beijing and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2021 to launch the project.

The document says the base will be “designed to conduct multidisciplinary and multipurpose research work”.

Russia previously expressed interest in collaborating on NASA’s Lunar Gateway program, and an informal joint statement was signed by both Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) and NASA on September 27, 2017.

The press conference on Friday, January 28 in which the joint venture was announced
The venture between China and Russia was announced at a press conference

But Roscosmos formally announced in January 2021 that it would no longer participate.

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According to the Chinese Academy of Engineering expert, Long Lehao, China wants to land its first astronauts on the Moon as early as 2030.

The country has always planned to send humans to the lunar surface, but it was assumed it would be later in the 2030s, after multiple rover and probe missions.

China's Tiangong-1 Space Station
China’s Tiangong-1 Space Station

China has also just approved three more missions to the moon – Chang’e 6, 7 and 8 – launching from 2024 onwards.

Friday’s announcement is a sign of closer cooperation between Russia and China, which has been conducting its spare-faring projects alone.

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China was notably barred from participating in the project to build the International Space Station (ISS) by the US.

The Yutu-2 moon rover, taken by the Chang'e-4 lunar probe on the far side of the moon
The Yutu-2 moon rover, taken by the Chang’e-4 lunar probe on the far side of the Moon

In its 20-year history, no Chinese nationals have ever been aboard the ageing ISS, which is operated by five space agencies – NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).

As a result, China started building its own space station, called Tiangong, meaning ‘heavenly palace’, to rival it.

ISS, currently in orbit, took 10 years and more than 30 missions to assemble from the launch of the first module back in 1998.

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