Moscow (AFP)

The Russians and Chinese announced Tuesday that they plan to jointly build a station "on the surface or in orbit" of the Moon, where new space ambitions are concentrated with Mars in the sights.

The announcement comes at a time when Russia, a pioneer in the conquest of space during the Soviet era, has been lagging behind for years, in comparison with the many projects of other states, some of them novices, and of private companies.

This "International Lunar Scientific Station" project is to be carried out by the Russian agency Roskosmos and the Chinese Space Administration (CNSA).

Based on the principle of "shared benefits", it will nevertheless be open to "all interested countries and international partners".

The press releases from Roskosmos and the CNSA announcing this draft agreement do not, however, specify a timetable or the sums invested.

According to Moscow, Russia and China will establish a "road map" and conduct "close collaboration" in order to achieve this achievement.

"The International Lunar Science Station consists of a set of experimental research tools created on the surface or in orbit of the Moon and designed to carry out multidisciplinary work," the statement said.

The Russian agency adds that it must also make it possible to evaluate technologies allowing "unmanned" operations, with a view to a human presence on the Moon.

For its part, the Chinese Space Administration stressed that it will aim to "promote peaceful exploration and the use of space by all mankind."

In a tweet, Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin on Tuesday invited Zhang Kejian, the director of the Chinese Space Administration, to attend the planned launch next October of the Russian lunar lander Luna 25.

- Competition -

Many programs with the Moon for objective are under development around the world and considered as test beds towards Mars, like the American Artemis.

Russia does not have such an ambitious project and it appears to be behind the race, it which last year lost its monopoly on manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS) after the first successful mission of this kind. by the American company Space X. This company is planning a flight to the Moon from 2023.

Despite benefiting from a wealth of experience and reliably designed equipment dating from the Soviet period, the Russian space sector suffers from difficulties in innovating, as well as problems of financing and corruption.

Moscow's successes nevertheless remain a source of great pride for the Russians, in particular around the figure of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, whose famous mission will celebrate his 60th birthday in April.

This new lunar project, if it materializes, could put Moscow back in the race with the help of a partner who does not hide its great space ambitions, at a time when the United States plans to build Lunar Gateway (LOP -G), the future mini-station which will be assembled in lunar orbit.

"It's really important, and an interesting counterpart to the US-led LOP-G (project)," independent Chinese analyst Chen Lan of told AFP.

According to him, it would be the "biggest international cooperation project" of China in space.

In mid-February, China, a space power in the making, placed its "Tianwen-1" probe in orbit around Mars, a first for the country, carried out nearly seven months after its launch in July.

In December, she had also safely returned samples of the Moon, during a first mission of this type in more than 40 years.

For their part, the United States successfully landed a fifth rover on Mars at the end of February.

Under former President Donald Trump, Washington had set the return of Americans to the moon for 2024 as part of the Artemis program.

For his part, Joe Biden, while supporting the Artemis program, has not yet appointed a permanent administrator for NASA, nor given a precise vision of his space policy.

© 2021 AFP