Luna 27 and Chang’e-6, for example, are said to drill into the surface and bring samples back to Earth – an accomplishment that China did three times a year with Chang’e-5 last December and the Soviet Union with Luna landers three times a year in the 1970s . In a second phase, between 2026 and 2030, the Chang’e-8 and Luna 28 missions will land separately with the first building blocks of the new station.
The first of Russia’s missions is scheduled for October, although Russia’s space program has a track record of long delays.
Ultimately, China hopes the station will demonstrate the ability to develop water, mineral and energy resources that enable astronauts to survive in the short term and serve as a base for deeper space exploration.
“A permanent base has both symbolic and power projection capabilities,” said Namrata Goswami, an independent analyst and co-author of the new book, Scramble for the Skies, on space exploration.
NASA has its own plans to bring astronauts back to the moon – and one day send them to Mars – and has recruited partners under an agreement called the Artemis Accords that governs space activities, including operations, experiments, and natural resource extraction.
China is not explicitly excluded, but seems almost certainly not to sign, given America’s restrictions on space cooperation and its own determination to build an indigenous program. Russia, too, seems unlikely to sign, given its inclination towards China.
Like Dr. Johnson-Freese of the United States Naval War College put it: “China keeps Russia in the space game to a far greater extent than the Russian economy would otherwise support.”
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul. Claire Fu in Beijing and Oleg Matsnev in Moscow contributed to the research.