In a momentous announcement, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) declared that Azerbaijan has officially become a participant in the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) program. This significant development was unveiled on the CNSA’s official website, marking a remarkable leap forward in international space collaboration.
The partnership between China and Azerbaijan in the ILRS program was solidified through a joint statement signed during the 74th International Astronautical Congress held in Baku, Azerbaijan. This congress, which convened from October 2 to 6, provided the perfect backdrop for the two nations to cement their commitment to lunar exploration and research.
The joint statement outlines a comprehensive framework for cooperation between the two countries within the ILRS program. Key areas of collaboration include the demonstration, implementation, operation, and application of the program. This encompasses a wide range of activities, from the installation of scientific instruments on the lunar base to the training of personnel and the execution of scientific and technological experiments.
The CNSA has emphasized the profound significance of this partnership, asserting that it will play a pivotal role in advancing scientific and technological progress, fostering economic and social development, and strengthening the cooperative ties between China and Azerbaijan.
The ILRS program, initially launched in 2021 through a collaboration between China and Russia, aspires to create a lunar base for extensive lunar research and exploration. Azerbaijan joins a growing list of nations, organizations, and institutions that have entered into partnerships with China in pursuit of this ambitious lunar vision. Notable participants include Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, South Africa, and the Swiss company Nano-SPACE, as reported by the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory under the CNSA.
China’s blueprint for the ILRS program encompasses three distinct phases. The foundational model of the lunar station is anticipated to be completed by 2028, enabling lunar environment exploration and the validation of resource utilization techniques. Subsequently, by 2040, substantial enhancements are planned, aimed at facilitating groundbreaking discoveries related to the sun, Earth, moon, and the broader space environment. During this phase, a satellite constellation will be established to support manned lunar landings and deep space exploration.
Following these developments, the lunar base will undergo a transformation from a scientific research-oriented experimental station to an application-oriented and multifunctional facility. Integral to this evolution will be the launch of China’s Chang’e-6, -7, and -8 lunar probes, each designed to contribute distinct capabilities to the ILRS program.
Chang’e-6, expected to launch around 2024, will embark on a mission to collect samples from the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon. Chang’e-7, scheduled for deployment around 2026, will conduct resource exploration of the lunar south pole, further enriching our understanding of lunar resources. Finally, Chang’e-8, slated for launch in approximately 2028, will focus on experimental lunar resource utilization and the construction of the basic model of the lunar station itself, representing a pivotal milestone in the ILRS program.
As China and Azerbaijan solidify their commitment to lunar exploration and research, the ILRS program continues to gather momentum, uniting nations in their quest to unlock the mysteries of the moon and beyond. This burgeoning international collaboration promises to yield groundbreaking scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and a shared vision for humanity’s future in space exploration.