China and Russia present joint plans to explore Moon as China launches first crew in Tianhe – SpacePolicyOnline.com
China and Russia presented their roadmap for joint moon exploration this morning, hours before China launched the first crew of its new space station module, Tianhe. The concept of the Sino-Russian International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) illustrates the pace of human spaceflight at the modest pace of China, with the first human missions to the moon not being considered until the mid-1930s. Undermine arguments that the United States is in a race with China and must bring astronauts back to the moon by 2024 before they arrive.
Officials from the National Space Administration of China (CNSA) took the initiative today to explain ILRS in a joint session with Russian company Roscosmos at the IAF conference on Global Space Exploration (GLEX) in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Coincidentally, the session took place just before China launched its first crew into space in five years. The three-man crew of the Shenzhou-12 took off at 9:22 p.m. EDT tonight. They will dock with the Tianhe Space Station module in 6-7 hours for a three-month stay.
Tianhe is the first of three modules that will make up the Chinese Space Station (CSS). This is China’s top priority for human spaceflight, but it has bigger plans for the future in cooperation with Russia.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in March to create the ILRS and invited other countries to join them. Dmitry Rogozin, managing director of Roscosmos, told GLEX yesterday that they are already working with the European Space Agency (ESA). Roscosmos and ESA are currently partners in the ExoMars 2022 lander / rover mission to Mars, which launches next year.
NASA’s Artemis program also targets lunar exploration with international partners, so some see ILRS as a competition and get “boots on the moon” – or back on the moon in the case of the United States. United since American astronauts have already landed there six times – like a race. The schedule presented today does not suggest this at all.
NASA’s goal is to get astronauts back to the moon by 2024, the first step in a long-term sustainable program to explore and use the moon. An armada of landers and robotic rovers will precede and accompany the human missions. The first will be launched this year with two per year thereafter.
The China / Russia ILRS also has robotic and human components, but it is fully robotic until 2036.
The Soviet Union sent numerous orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions to the Moon at the start of the space age, but the most recent, Luna 24, dates from 1976. It is preparing to resume these missions , with Luna 25 slated to launch later this year, followed by Lunar 26 and 27 before 2025.
China’s robotic lunar program is already underway. The Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4 landers / rovers are currently on the surface of the Moon. The Queqiao data relay satellite is in lunar orbit providing communications between Earth and Chang’e-4, the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon. Chang’e-5 returned samples from the Moon last year. Chang’e-6 and -7 are under development.
The Luna 25-27 and Chang’e-6 and -7 probes are included in the ILRS roadmap as part of the first of three ILRS phases – Reconnaissance – by 2025 as shown by a series of slides presented today by the CNSA.
Phase 2 is construction, from 2026 to 2035, and breaks down into two stages. The first stage of 2026-2030 foresees the launch of two more efficient landers / rovers, Chang’e-8 and Luna 28. The second stage of 2031-2035 will see the landing of a wide range of vehicles and equipment of surface for transportation, food, research and verification of in situ resource utilization technologies (ISRUs) to extract and utilize lunar materials.
Phase 3, Use, described simply as “after 2036”, is when astronauts will visit the lunar surface for short stays.
A short video in English explaining the plan was shown to GLEX and later tweeted by Roscosmos.
идеоконцепция создания еждународной научной лунной станции 🚀🌒
– (@roscosmos) June 16, 2021
Asked directly about when China would land its first astronaut on the moon, CNSA’s Yu Yanhua said such plans are only in the “preparatory” stage, stressing that CSS is now the priority for flights inhabited spaces. For the Moon, “we are still focusing on unmanned lunar exploration as a priority of our work in the next 10 years.”
CSS is in its infancy. The first module, Tianhe, was launched in April. A cargo / supply spacecraft, Tianzhou-2, docked in May. Today, China launched the first crew on the Shenzhou-12. They will live there for three months. The other two modules are expected to be launched next year. Each measures 22.5 metric tons (MT), a significant improvement over the previous two Chinese space stations (8.5 MT each), but much smaller than the 400 MT ISS.
Shenzhou-12 is China’s first manned space flight in five years. In fact, so far, China has only launched six manned space missions in the past 18 years. It’s a very modestly paced program and ILRS is no different.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is seeking additional funding from Congress to help the United States bring astronauts back to the moon by 2024 before China gets there, but the roadmap presented today hui does not support the idea that a race to the moon is underway.
Yesterday in a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS), Nelson again urged Congress to add money to the jobs and infrastructure bill. to pay a second company to build a Human Landing System (HLS) to increase the chances of getting there by 2024. NASA decided in April that it had enough money to award a single contract because Congress provided only 25% of the funding NASA requested for HLS in fiscal 2021. NASA wanted two contractors to provide redundancy and competition.
HLS is essential in bringing crews back to the lunar surface. They will arrive in lunar orbit via an Orion spacecraft launched by the space launch system, but HLS is required to take the crew from orbit to and from the surface. Nelson wants $ 5 billion more this year so NASA can select a second contractor.
Even with this money, Nelson agrees that 2024 will be a challenge because “space is difficult”, but to have hope, the extra money is needed now, not in the budget for fiscal year 2022 which could take several months. to finalize. He told the CJS House Supply Subcommittee last month and the Senate Subcommittee yesterday that the solution is to put money into the pending jobs / infrastructure bill.
I think you’re going to see a very aggressive China. You’re going to see a Chinese government that understands the value of success in space. We have already seen how they shine in the afterglow of their landing on Mars, with a [robotic] vagabond. I think you’re going to see an aggressive program of them landing on the moon. I declare what is already there in the press. And so I think that’s going to become a question for all of you as decision-makers. What is the value to the United States that we return to the moon first and continue this program to go to Mars. – Bill Nelson
He’s asking for a total of $ 11.7 billion for HLS and other NASA needs. CJS subcommittee chair Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reminded her former Senate colleague that her subcommittee has no jurisdiction over the employment bill.
The crux of the matter may turn out to be exactly what Nelson said – how much Congress appreciates returning to the Moon before China – but the ILRS roadmap presented today offers little support for the argument that China and Russia are trying to get there by 2024.
Nelson will testify before the House science, space and technology committee next week. Committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has been one of the most vocal critics of what she sees as the “arbitrary” deadline of 2024. She called a recent report by the Government Accountability Office ( GAO) on Artemis’ “wake-up call” to NASA and Congress that the program is “in serious trouble”. It will be interesting to see what Nelson says now that the ILRS roadmap is public.