Pakistan Officially Joins China's ILRS Moon Project

The agreement, inked on October 18, involves Zhang Kejian, CNSA administrator, and Moin ul Haque, the ambassador of Pakistan to China.

Pakistan Officially Joins China's ILRS Moon Project

Pakistan has formally joined China’s International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, marking a major advancement in moon exploration, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced on Friday.

The agreement, inked on October 18, involves Zhang Kejian, CNSA administrator, and Moin ul Haque, the ambassador of Pakistan to China. The understanding solidifies the collaboration between the China National Space Administration and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in the development, operation, and application of the ILRS. Additionally, it encompasses training and various other domains, according to the CNSA statement released on October 20.

The signing ceremony, attended by Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Pakistan’s interim prime minister, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, highlights Pakistan’s formal engagement in the International Lunar Research Station program. This milestone follows Azerbaijan’s recent inclusion in the project, announced on October 8.

The ILRS project spearheaded by China aims to establish a lasting moon base by the 2030s, with precursor missions slated for the 2020s. It is regarded as a parallel endeavor led by China, potentially posing as a competitor to the NASA-driven Artemis Program.

In addition to the ILRS cooperation, CNSA and SUPARCO also inked a Memorandum of Understanding pertaining to space debris and space traffic management.

Pakistan is already actively involved in the forthcoming Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission, scheduled for a mid-2024 launch. The country is contributing to this endeavor through its collaboration with Shanghai Jiaotong University on the development of the ICUBE-Q cubesat.

Pakistan presently has several satellites in orbit, including the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) constructed and launched in 2018 with Chinese support. The experimental PakTES-1A, a product of SUPARCO, was also on board the Long March 2C flight. Reports suggest that CNSA and SUPARCO are in the process of finalizing a framework agreement for cooperative efforts in human spaceflight.

Apart from Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela, and South Africa are among the known national or space agency-level participants in the ILRS project.

Additionally, joint statements have been signed by entities such as the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), Swiss firm nanoSPACE AG, the Hawaii-based International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA), and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT).

China’s establishment of ILRSCO (International Lunar Research Station Coordination Organization) in Hefei, Anhui province, underscores the nation’s commitment to driving this collaborative lunar research initiative.

The Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL) under CNSA has confirmed China’s intent to finalize agreements with founding members of ILRSCO by October, marking a pivotal step in the development of this ambitious lunar research endeavor.