Russia has announced a new space race, hoping to join China. This is why this is unlikely

This week, the Russian space agency Roscosmos hoped to return to the Moon after an absence of nearly 50 years. Instead, on Saturday, the Luna-25 lander lost control. The agency explained The spacecraft “went into an out-of-design orbit and ceased to exist as a result of impact with the lunar surface.”

However, in an interview broadcast on state television, the head of the agency, Yuri Borisov, said: Pledge His country’s firm commitment to lunar exploration:

And it is not only about the prestige of the country and the achievement of some geopolitical goals. It is about ensuring defense capabilities and achieving technological supremacy.

Roscosmos was keen to beat rival India’s spacecraft, Chandrayaan-3, to achieve a soft landing near the moon’s south pole. The Indian mission remains On schedule For a soft landing today (around 9pm AEST).

Despite the failure of Luna-25, the head of the Russian space agency also announced that “a new race to exploit the moon’s resources has begun,” and there would be a possible Russian-Chinese manned mission in the future, as reported by Reuters. It seems that his statement is less about scientific exploration of the lunar surface than about geopolitical situations.

I recently spent the better part of a decade as a senior academic at Peking University, and in July 2023 I was appointed Executive Director of International Institute of Space Sciences – Beijing. These appointments have allowed me to gain unique insights into the processes driving China’s space science program.

Read more: Is the United States in a space race against China?

Lunar location

It is believed that the lunar south pole region contains Large water tanks trapped in icicles. This makes the area interesting as a potential launching point for future missions to Mars and beyond, where lunar explorers could use the water to survive.

In early 2021, Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a co-founder An international station for lunar research by the mid-2030s.

The moon’s south pole could be a prime location for such a robotic base, which could also include the European Space Agency and other international partners.

However, human participation in Sino-Russian space missions is not expected anytime soon. Therefore, Borisov’s assertion that Russia would explore a joint manned mission came as an unexpected surprise. He may have been speaking to a local audience, trying to salvage his agency’s credentials.

Grayscale image of a surface with many dark blisters
An image of the lunar south pole region on the far side of the moon taken by the Russian Luna 25 spacecraft prior to its failed landing attempt.
Center for Operation of Terrestrial Space Infrastructure-State Space Corporation Roscosmos via AP

Despite the huge number of cooperation agreements, high-profile Sino-Russian space projects remain few and far between. If joint human exploration of the moon is not currently on the table, Chinese space authorities are unlikely to take the bait.

No need for a space race

China has always carefully planned its approach to solar system exploration and human spaceflight, with a series of clearly defined technological standards. And China is unlikely to be forced to accelerate its planned milestones. As such, the idea of ​​a “space race” involving China appears to be a moot point.

Chinese scientists and engineers have become very skilled in developing indigenous capabilities. They no longer need international assistance. And in Sino-Russian relations, Russia is now a truly junior partner. Its outdated technology pales in comparison to the leaps and bounds of modernization we’ve seen with it China’s progress in the space field.

Although the country joined the league of spacefaring nations only in 1970 with the launch of its first satellite, Dongfang Hong 1 (East Red 1), it has since made huge strides in technological readiness.

China Lunar exploration programme It gradually relied on proven capabilities, from entering lunar orbit on its first lunar missions (Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2; named after the Chinese moon goddess) to achieving soft landings (Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4). A successful sample return mission, Chang’e 5.

Exit to the planets

Solar system exploration is now firmly on China’s agenda, especially due to the recent Tianwen 1 (Heavenly Matters) mission to Mars. That mission successfully deployed the Zhurong spacecraft (named after the mythical Chinese god of fire), which is a major technological feat in itself.

Read more: In its first attempt, China’s Zhurong spacecraft achieves a milestone on Mars that took NASA decades

Likewise, China’s manned spaceflight program is beginning to yield impressive results. The country’s scientists and engineers are barred from cooperating with their federally funded American counterparts Under the 2011 Wolfe Amendmentthe China manned space The program follows the construction of a sovereign space station, Tiangong (Heavenly Palace).

Future plans include developing a next-generation manned spacecraft to replace the Shenzhou (Divine Ark on the Heavenly River) series. we are told She will be able to get pregnant Astronauts To the moon, but that does not mean Russian Astronauts He will be invited to attend.

Although China can no longer boast of the economic successes it achieved in the past, and the infusion of foreign money may be seen as beneficial, Russia’s financial losses Given the ongoing war in Ukraine, any such overtures might make for wishful thinking.

Russia’s space prowess appears to be a grim reversal of its Soviet predecessor.

Read more: China’s new space station opens for operation in an increasingly competitive era of space activity

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