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Venezuela Joins China's International Lunar Research Station

Venezuela has become the 5th country to officially joined the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a China-led initiative. The ILRS is considered a parallel project to NASA's Artemis Program and aims to establish a permanent lunar base in the 2030s.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Jul 18 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Venezuela has become the 1st country to officially joined the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a China-led initiative. The ILRS is considered a parallel project to NASA's Artemis Program and aims to establish a permanent lunar base in the 2030s.

The agreement was signed on July 17 via video conference between Zhang Kejian, the administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), and Gabriela Jimenez, Venezuela's Vice President and Minister of Science and Technology.

Credit: CNSA

The joint statement, titled the "Memorandum of Cooperation between the China National Space Administration and the Bolivarian Space Agency of Venezuela on the International Lunar Research Station," marks Venezuela's formal entry into the ILRS program.

Under the agreement, China and Venezuela will collaborate extensively on the demonstration, engineering implementation, operation, and application of the ILRS. This includes joint scientific goals, joint design efforts, and more. The CNSA stated that the signing of the joint statement signifies the expansion of cooperation between the two countries from near-Earth space to the moon and deep space.

China and Venezuela have previously collaborated in space activities, such as the launch of the VeneSat-1 communications satellite built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) in 2008, as well as the deployment of remote sensing satellites in low Earth orbit.

The ILRS project, led by China, plans to undertake a series of robotic missions throughout the 2020s as precursors to the establishment of a lunar base. These missions include the Chang'e-7 mission to the lunar south pole in 2026 and the Chang'e-8 mission to test in-situ resource utilization and 3D-printing technology in 2028. China has set a goal to send astronauts to the moon by 2030.

Credit: CNSA

Venezuela will contribute its satellite control ground station infrastructure for lunar missions and engage in collaborative design, technical cooperation, operational cooperation, and data management and exchange. The Venezuelan Space Agency (ABAE) sees this partnership as an exceptional opportunity for joint advances in lunar exploration, technology transfer, and mission planning.

"Venezuela goes to the Moon, who would have thought? We are the first to partner in the project to go to the Moon with the People's Republic of China." - President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela

Venezuela's partnership with China in the ILRS was initially discussed in late March when Marglad Bencomo, executive director of ABAE, visited China's new Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL) to explore potential cooperation.

As the first country to formally sign up for the China-led ILRS initiative, Venezuela joins China and Russia, who presented a joint ILRS roadmap in St. Petersburg in 2021. While Russia has taken a step back, China is assuming the lead role in the project and establishing the International Lunar Research Station Cooperation Organization (ILRSCO) to coordinate the international moon base initiative. Pakistan and the UAE have already expressed interest in joining the ILRS.

The CNSA has also signed joint statements with the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), Swiss firm nanoSPACE AG, and the Hawaii-based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) regarding the ILRS.

Pakistan and the UAE have also expressed their intent to join the initiative, while China's DSEL is in negotiations with more than 10 other countries and organizations.'

In contrast, the United States-led Artemis Program has attracted 27 countries, including India, to sign up for the Artemis Accords, which serve as the political foundation for the initiative.

Victoria Samson, the Washington Office director at the Secure World Foundation suggests that there may be a division emerging in lunar governance and approaches to lunar missions, with countries aligning themselves with either Team Artemis or Team ILRS.

China aims to complete the signing of agreements and memorandums of understanding with space agencies and organizations from founding members of the ILRSCO by October 2023.