China’s plans to construct the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) have advanced significantly with key agreements signed by Russia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO).
The latest developments follow recent news of an imminent agreement between Pakistan’s SUPARCO (Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) and China on the ILRS project, as was suggested by SUPARCO’s President, Amer Nadeem, during a visit to the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory in southeastern China.
Malaysia and Venezuela are also reportedly considering joining the project, which aims to launch a Chinese research facility on the Earth’s natural satellite by 2035.
In a concurrent move, China has announced the creation of the International Lunar Research Station Cooperation Organization (ILRSCO), a body dedicated to overseeing the lunar base’s construction. In April, China extended invitations to various nations to join the initiative, including European and African countries, BRICS nations, and even the US.
The Chinese National Space Administration’s Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL) reportedly intends to complete the signing of contracts and memoranda of understanding with space agencies and organizations for ILRSCO founding members by October.
In addition to its role in coordinating the lunar base’s construction, ILRSCO’s Hefei-based headquarters will offer facilities for design simulation, operations control, data processing, sample storage and research, and international training facilities.
The construction of the lunar base will be heralded by two Chinese lunar missions, Chang’e 6 and Chang’e 7. The former mission, set for launch as early as 2024, will aim to gather lunar samples from the South Pole’s vicinity.
However, the Chang’e 7 mission has been mired in controversy. Initially, the United Arab Emirates was set to contribute the Rashid II rover to the mission, under a pact signed with China in September 2022. But due to conflicts with US International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the involvement of the Rashid II rover is in doubt. ITAR regulations are designed to restrict the access of certain entities to sensitive US-made components.