Artist’s view of International Lunar Research Station to be completed by 2035. Credit: CNSA

China is providing new details regarding the country’s plan to establish an International Lunar Research Station.

The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), according to state-run outlets, will consist of sections on the lunar surface, sections in lunar orbit and sections on Earth, and it will be built in two phases.

Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, rolled out current ILRS thinking while  attending a space conference as part of Space Day of China activities. The China conference started on Wednesday in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province.

CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

First, second phase

Wu said the first phase of the ILRS construction project will see a “basic station” built by 2035 in the lunar south pole region, one that will constitute scientific facilities, able to carry out scientific experiments to develop and utilize local lunar resources on a limited scale.

The second phase will see expansion of the station, set for completion by 2045.

This phase involves a Moon-orbiting space station as a research hub for lunar research – as well as scientific experiments and research for a future human landing on Mars, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Image credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Central Television (CCTV)/ Outer Space screengrab

Robotic lunar exploration

Wu noted that the basic ILRS will benefit by a sequence of lunar robotic mission: the upcoming Chang’e-6 sample return mission to the Moon’s far side; Chang’e-7 in 2026 to do environment and resource surveys in the lunar south pole region; and Chang’e-8 in 2028 to carry out tests aimed at the on-the-spot utilization of lunar resources.

According to Wu, after completion, the ILRS will consist of the lunar surface section, the lunar orbit section and the Earth surface section, with infrastructure such as an energy power system, a command and information system, and a lunar surface transportation system.

“This stage of the ILRS will have energy supply, central control, communication and navigation, Earth-moon roundtrip transport, and lunar surface scientific research functions,” reports Xinhua. “It will be capable of carrying out multi-disciplinary and multi-target scientific and technological activities on a large scale over a long period of time, with activities including scientific exploration, resource development and technology verification.”

Image credit: China Manned Space Agency

International involvement

China’s ILRS program, Wu said, is to embrace 50 countries, 500 international research institutions and 5,000 overseas researchers to help develop the station, manage facilities, and share scientific research results.

The ILRS has been initiated by China and is jointly developed by multiple countries and organizations. New ILRS partners include Nicaragua, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization and the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences.

China’s Global Times reports that the ILRS is currently led by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Russia’s Roscosmos.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter.
Credit: CNSA

Mars return sample

According to the Global Times, Wu also stated that China plans to launch the Tianwen-2 mission around 2025, to carry out flyby exploration and return samples from a small asteroid.

Around 2030, Tianwen-3 is planned to be launched to execute a sample return mission from Mars, Wu said.

Illustration of the scientific payloads mounted on Zhurong Mars rover that landed on the Red Planet in May 2021. The group picture of the rover (left) and the lander (right) was taken by the WiFi camera (Image Credit: the ChinaNational Space Administration (CNSA). NaTeCam: Navigation and Terrain camera. RoMAG: Mars Rover Magnetometer. MSCam: Multispectral Camera. MSC-1: MarsClimate Station (Wind field and sound probe). MSC-2: Mars Climate Station (Air
temperature and pressure probe). MarSCoDe: Mars Surface Component Detector. RoPeR(CH1): Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (channel 1). RoPeR (CH2): Mars Rover
Penetrating Radar (channel 2).
Credit: Steve Yang Liu, Et al.


“Currently, looking at the progress of various countries around the world, our country is expected to become the first country to return samples from Mars,” Wu remarked. China has begun planning the construction of the world’s first Mars sample laboratory.

Also, a feasibility study is underway for a Tianwen-4 mission to explore Jupiter and its moons, followed by the arrival at Uranus, according to Wu.

Wenchang Moonport

In related news, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA also noted the country’s planned human lunar landing program.

“The program development for major flight products, including the Long March-10 carrier rocket, the manned spacecraft Mengzhou, the lunar lander Lanyue and the lunar landing suits, is all done, and their prototype production and tests are underway in full swing,” said Lin.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Lin added that work on China’s human-carrying Moon lander has been basically completed. Also, the Wenchang launch center to be the human lunar exploration departure point is under construction.

Per China Central Television (CCTV), Lin said that unlike the space station effort, the Moon landing mission needs taikonauts to master the operation of Mengzhou spacecraft and Lanyue lander in normal and emergency flight conditions, including rendezvous and docking of the spacecraft and lander, and manually avoiding obstacles during the lander’s descent.

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