Russia’s space authority will incorporate a Chinese superheavy launcher into its home-grown manned spacecraft for future moon-landing missions, a senior Russian official said.
Alexander Bloshenko, executive director of the state-backed space agency Roscosmos, said that in the future China and Russia would design technical procedures for their respective spacecraft to allow integration in future space missions.
“Both sides have agreed to incorporate Russia’s superheavy rocket with China’s human space flight as well as the other way round – incorporate China’s superheavy rocket with Russia’s manned carriers,” he said on Monday, according to Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik. China has not commented on the planned space cooperation with Russia.
While Bloshenko did not specify which spacecraft would be involved, the report referred to the construction of Russia’s Yenisei superheavy launcher and the Oryol manned spacecraft. It also mentioned construction under way of China’s new-generation heavy launch vehicle Long March 9 and a new-generation crew launch vehicle.
According to previous government announcements, the first lift-off of Yenisei and Oyrol is set for 2028 and a test flight of China’s Long March 9 is expected in 2030.
Space exploration and related technologies were identified as a key area of cooperation between Beijing and Moscow in their rapidly deepening bilateral relations amid shared pressure from the United States. Space cooperation is also expected to be on the agenda during talks between China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on Tuesday.
In a communique following a foreign ministerial meeting in March, Russia and China said they would expand their cooperation in lunar and deep-space exploration, satellite communication technology, aerospace components and Russia’s proposed Spektr-M scientific satellite, as well as long-term cooperation in satellite navigation by enhancing the compatibility of China’s BeiDou and Russia’s Glonass satellites.
Chinese military affairs commentator and former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said given the agreement allowing China and Russia to work together on lunar space missions, it made sense for the two countries to trust each other enough at the launch of each other’s manned spacecraft.
“If the project is possible, it will be a great demonstration of the adoption of an aligned standard in space programmes between Russia and China … this is a show of strong cooperation and trust, and also lays the foundation and standards for other aspects of the space cooperation, like the lunar station,” Song said.
China’s space programme has been developing rapidly since it became the third nation to independently launch an astronaut into orbit in 2003, four decades after the Soviets and Americans first did so. Beijing plans to set up a space station by 2022 and a lunar station by 2045.
While Beijing insists its space programme is developed for peaceful purposes, its rapidly improving capabilities have raised suspicions, particularly from the US. In June last year, the Pentagon’s new space strategy listed China and Russia as strategic threats that “have weaponised space as a means to reduce US and allies’ military effectiveness and challenge … freedom of operation in space”.
One of China’s current largest launch vehicle the Long March 5B re-entered Earth earlier this month after launching part of China’s space station. Its plunge into the Indian Ocean prompted the US space agency Nasa to accuse China’s space programme of failing to “meet responsible standards”.
Last year, China became the first country in four decades to bring rocks from the moon back to Earth and the third country to achieve such a feat, after the United States and the Soviet Union.