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China Wants New Partners For Its Moon Missions As Its Relationship With Russia Cools

TOPSHOT-CHINA-SPACE
TOPSHOT-CHINA-SPACE

Staff members examine the return module of China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe in Siziwang Banner, in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Dec. 17, 2020. Credit - STR/AFP—Getty Images

It was little more than a year ago, in June 2021, at a gathering of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in St. Petersburg, Russia, that China and Russia announced bold plans for a joint International Lunar Research Station (ILRS)—a crewed base at the moon’s south pole. But that was 16 months—and one invasion of Ukraine—ago, and, as SpaceNews reports, the doings on Earth have had a big impact on China’s plans in space.

According to a new summary released from a meeting of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) last week in Paris, the Chinese space program has gone cool on Russia. At the IAC session, China flung its doors open to international participation on its Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7, and Chang’e-8 missions—uncrewed landings on the moon planned for later in this decade.

Read more: China’s New Space Station Has a Big Role to Play—Scientifically and Diplomatically

Chang’e-6 alone will have experiments aboard from Sweden, France, and the European Space Agency. Beijing invited proposals for similar international cooperation on the other two lunar missions. But Chinese space officials were absolutely mum on any further plans for the ILRS.

That doesn’t mean China is dropping the proposal altogether. NASA is partnering with multiple nations to return humans to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. China was hoping for something similar with Russia and the ILRS was announced with enough fanfare that Beijing might not want to lose face by simply walking away from the idea.

For now, Marco Albierti, a senior research fellow at the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna, told SpaceNews, look for Beijing to “officially celebrate the importance of cooperation with Russia, while in parallel pursuing opportunities that better serve its national interest.

Read more: China Unveils Plans to Send Spacecraft to Jupiter and Uranus

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can sign up here.