France could partner with Russia and China to build a moon research station, Russian space agency Roscosmos suggested on Tuesday.
The proposal came during a videoconference between Dmitry Rogozi, director general of Roscosmos, and Philippe Baptiste, president of the National Center for Space Studies of France.
A press release from Roscosmos said that during the talks, the two “discussed the prospects for Russian-French cooperation in the Guyanese Soyuz Space Center complex and raised possible French participation in the Russian-Chinese initiative to creation of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).
The two sides agreed to start “a detailed discussion” on the next steps. So far, no timetable has been announced for the construction of the base.
China and Russia signed an agreement in principle to cooperate on the lunar station in March after negotiations in which the European Space Agency was involved.
ILRS was first proposed by China as an alien version of research stations operated by many Antarctic countries. It would be used for water and mineral exploration and research, resource use, manufacturing, and the effect of low gravity on biological systems. Work will also be carried out on wireless power transmission and nuclear power for space.
One particular resource that can be found on the Moon, but not on Earth, is helium-3, an isotope that can be essential in the construction of fusion reactors.
Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the project would be “open to all interested countries and international partners,” although the United States could not participate due to a law it passed in 2011 banning cooperation between NASA and China.
The United States is working on its own lunar program with NASA’s Artemis and Gateway projects.
If all goes according to plan, Artemis will send astronauts to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s and establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade. Gateway, which is part of Artemis, would build a space station in lunar orbit.
At the same time, the CNSA is planning a “sample return mission”, called Chang’e-6, to transport equipment from France, Sweden, Russia and Italy. This will be followed by the Chang’e-7 multi-spacecraft, which will put a rover on the lunar surface.
These two missions are planned around 2023-24. A subsequent Chang’e-8 mission will explore the use of in situ resources and 3D printing technology for the construction of the ILRS.
For its part, Russia is preparing its Luna 25, Luna 26 and Luna 27 landing missions in the 2020s. Russia and China have signed cooperation agreements on these two programs by creating a common data center for them.
Top image: The space station is expected to be built on the south pole of the Moon (Musimon / Dreamstime)