Unlikely Prospect: Russia's Ambitious Space Race Collaboration with China

This week, the Russian space agency Roscosmos experienced a setback in its lunar exploration plans. The Luna-25 lander lost control and collided with the lunar surface, ending its mission. Despite this failure, Roscosmos’ chief, Yuri Borisov, expressed Russia’s commitment to lunar exploration, emphasizing its importance for defensive capabilities and technological sovereignty.

Roscosmos had hoped to beat India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft to achieve a soft landing near the lunar south pole. However, the Indian mission remains on schedule for a soft landing. Borisov also mentioned a potential future crewed Russian-Chinese mission, indicating a “new race” to exploit the Moon’s resources. However, this statement may be more about geopolitical posturing than scientific exploration.

The lunar south pole region is of interest due to its potential water reservoirs, which could be used for future missions to Mars and beyond. Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an International Lunar Research Station by the mid-2030s, potentially involving the European Space Agency and other international partners.

While human involvement in Sino-Russian space missions is not expected in the near future, Borisov’s mention of a joint crewed mission was surprising. However, it is unlikely that China will rush its planned milestones or engage in a space race. China has developed its own capabilities and no longer requires international assistance. Russia, on the other hand, is now the junior partner in the Sino-Russian relationship.

China has made significant progress in space exploration, from lunar missions to Mars missions and human spaceflight programs. The recent Tianwen 1 mission successfully deployed a rover on Mars, and China’s human spaceflight program is focused on constructing a sovereign space station and developing a next-generation crewed spacecraft.

Although China may benefit from external cash injections, Russia’s financial losses due to the ongoing war in Ukraine may hinder any potential collaboration. Russia’s space prowess has diminished compared to its Soviet predecessor.

Overall, China’s space program is advancing rapidly, while Russia faces challenges in maintaining its position in the space exploration arena.