China Ready to Cooperate with Russia on Orbital Space Station

Artist’s conception of China’s Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)

Tass quotes China National Space Administration Secretary General Li Guoping as saying his nation is ready to cooperate with Russia, Germany and France on a future space station.

“Russia is one of China’s main partners in space cooperation,” he said adding that the two countries held annual meetings devoted to cooperation in space exploration. Both countries, he said, were pushing ahead with joint aerospace projects in accordance with China’s program for 2018-2022.

“Lunar studies are one of the guidelines in our cooperation,” Li said. “As far as China’s orbital station is concerned, it is in the construction phase and will be completed by 2022. We intend to cooperate with many countries, including Russia, Germany and France on this project.”

It’s not clear exactly what such cooperation would entail. European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts are training with China for future flights aboard Shenzhou spacecraft.

Shenzhou spacecraft will serve the multi-module Tianhe-1 space station, whose core module is to be launched in 2020.  The orbiting facility will be roughly the size of Russia’s decommissioned Mir station and have about one-fifth the volume of the International Space Station.

China is also pursuing an aggressive program to explore the moon with international cooperation. The ambitious Chang’e-4 mission — which includes a lander, rover, orbiter and two CubeSats  — includes instruments and experiments from Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and Saudi Arabia.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said Russia could turn to cooperation with China if it is not given an appropriate role in NASA-led plans for a crewed Lunar Gateway that would orbit the moon in the 2020’s.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently rescinded an invitation to Rogozin to visit the United States for consultation with agency leaders. The decision came after an uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to grant an exemption to Rogozin, who cannot travel to the United States due to sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

An angry Roscosmos has demanded an explanation from NASA, noting pointedly that negotiations on the Lunar Gateway and extending operations of the International Space Station beyond 2024 have “not yet been suspended.”