In June 2021, China announced it was partnering with Russia to launch a lunar exploration program that would rival NASA’s Artemis Program. This program would include robotic landers, orbiters, and crewed missions that would culminate with the creation of an outpost around the Moon’s southern polar region – the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). While the details are still scant, periodic updates have provided a “big-picture” idea of what this lunar outpost will look like.
Case in point, at a recent national space conference, a team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) presented a list of objectives for the ILRS. According to China Science Daily, these objectives will include Moon-based astronomy, Earth observation, and lunar in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). In addition, the CAS scientists indicated that China plans to establish a basic model for a lunar research station based on two planned exploration missions by 2028, which will subsequently expand into an international base.
The China National Space Agency (CNSA) has advanced considerably since the turn of the century, boasting new launch vehicles, robotic missions to the Moon and Mars, and a modular space station in orbit (Tiangong). According to various sources, they plan to advance even further in the coming years and decades. Given the tight-lipped nature of the Chinese government and its agencies, much of what we periodically hear is based on snippets of information, gossip, and speculation.
However, in a recent interview with the state-owned CCTV new network, chief designer Huang Zhen confirmed that China’s space agency has established the Crewed Lunar Program Office. This program will consist of additional robotic missions to explore the Moon, followed by crewed missions and the creation of a base camp. Zhen also confirmed that he and his team at the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) are currently developing the key technologies that will make this happen.