On April 8, The Chinese government urged Venezuela to join its lunar research station project in a bid to expand international collaboration, the Venezuelan regime said in an April 8 statement. The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a joint China-Russia project, seeks to establish a research base on the moon by 2030.
According to China’s National Laboratory for Deep Space Exploration, following a visit to its facilities, Marglad Bencomo, director of the Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities, said that Caracas is willing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Beijing “as soon as possible.”
“When China invites the Venezuelan regime to join its lunar research project, there is really little that Venezuela can contribute to it,” Antonio Alonso, an expert in international relations and professor at CEU San Pablo University in Madrid, Spain, told Diálogo on May 3.
The ILRS is part of China’s Chang’e Program that began in 2007 with the launch of a probe. Russia joined the project in 2021. The basic structure of the international lunar research station will be built on the lunar south pole and will have lunar landing modules, Spanish news site Antena 3 reported.
China is also developing a nuclear energy system to equip its future lunar base and to support communications between Earth, Mars, and other missions in space. The use of nuclear power, even in space, carries many risks, National Geographic magazine reported.
Ding Lieyun, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the press that Beijing could take “20 to 30 years or more to finally settle on the moon, but we should start working together now, to get to the moon in this decade.”
“To do that work in space it’s good to have support, antenna coverage, and communications from several points of the planet and not only from China, which is looking for a wide triangulation to ensure connectivity and communications with the space station,” Alonso said. “Venezuela could provide some coverage.”
In July 2022, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told German newspaper Bild that if this were to work, “we should be worried that China will land on the moon and say: now it’s mine. Beijing’s space program is a military space program.”
The south pole of the moon is a treasure trove of valuable resources, including water, which if split into hydrogen and oxygen then can become rocket fuel, Bild reported. So, whoever dominates the south side of the moon will have an important base in space.
Nelson also spoke of the technology theft that made it possible for the Chinese regime to take part in the space race. “China is good because it steals ideas and technologies from others, and it learned how to destroy other people’s satellites, supposedly to clean up its own space debris.”
“There is concern about getting weapons into outer space. If weaponry is installed on that space station, that’s a huge danger,” Alonso said. “A missile launched from a space station is virtually unstoppable. Weaponing from space should be avoided at all costs.”
The China-Russia-Venezuela space alliance shadows NASA-led Artemis lunar exploration program, which has the collaboration of 23 countries (including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico from the Latin America region) and a large number of private companies, U.S. magazine Space News reported.
The Artemis program aims to return to lunar exploration and is an important first step to foster international cooperation for space exploration to the Moon and Mars. It will return astronauts to the lunar surface, take the first woman, and include people of diverse origins, the Mexican Foreign Ministry indicated in a statement. Partner countries will have free access to information and technological developments made by the nations in the program, the Colombian government said.
However, “from now on there will be an international station in which China, Russia, Venezuela and those who wish to join will participate,” Alonso said. “There is a danger that there will be a competition between states to see which project to join.”
“We are seeing a bifurcation in lunar governance,” Victoria Samson, director of the Washington office of nongovernmental organization Secure World Foundation, told Space News. “I don’t think it’s helpful and it may end up generating an unnecessary competitive spirit for lunar missions, complicating an already complicated environment.”
While Russia’s role in the project is unknown, China faces challenges in attracting partners to ILRS, Space News reported.
In April, NASA and Canada’s space agency named the four astronauts who will crew the Artemis II mission planned to return to the Moon in late 2024, the space agency indicated in a statement. The Artemis I mission, was launched in November 2022.
“In exploring space, NASA will follow what we have spelled out in the Artemis Accords — that we will be transparent about all activities, operative in a safe and responsible manner and avoid harm and interference NASA told Newsweek magazine. “We encourage all nations to act responsibly in space.”