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Kazakhstan joins China’s lunar base project

Kazakhstan today became the twelth nation to join China’s International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, and the first besides Russia with a real viable space industry.

The agreement appears to also include language allowing both nations to use each other’s spaceports. Since Kazakhstan’s main area of participation in space is its Baikonur spaceport, built during the Soviet days and up to now used exclusively by the Russians, this agreement could be a big deal. As the article notes,

China is currently working to boost pad access for emerging commercial launch service providers. The Baikonur cosmodrome was set up by the Soviet Union in Kazakhstan. It is leased to Russia until 2050. The country also hosts the Sary Shagan Test Site. Kazakhstan shares a border with Xinjiang, in China’s west.

“Kazakhstan will need to diversify away from Russia if it wants to have a big future in space,” Bleddyn Bowen, an associate professor specializing in space policy and military uses of outer space at the University of Leicester, told SpaceNews.

This deal indicates once again the foolishness of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. It highlighted to all of its neighbors that they need to form alliances with others to strengthen their hand should Russia turn its aggressive eye in their direction. Kazakhstan has now done so, to Russia’s long term detriment.

China’s twelve partner nations are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela. In addition, about eleven academic or governmental bureaucracies have signed on along with several other countries (Bahrain and Peru) who have not signed on but are involved in other ways.

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  • sippin bourbon

    What is interesting to me about this list is the absence of some of the BRICS countries.

  • mkent

    ”Kazakhstan today became the twelth nation to join China’s International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, and the first besides Russia with a real viable space industry.”

    Say what? What space industry would that be?

  • Andi

    Renting out Baikonur?

  • Clark

    “Say what? What space industry would that be?”

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there would be some Baikonur-adjacent, space related infrastructure that also passed along to Kazakhstan when the USSR went Tango Uniform. Assuming the Kazakhs kept that infrastructure in working condition, their contribution to a Chinese lunar base could be much more substantial than any of the other partners (except maybe Russia, for now).

  • mkent

    Clark: It’s admittedly not a part of the world I pay a whole lot of attention to, but I don’t recall Kazakhstan having any significant aerospace organizations other than the Baikonur Cosmodrone — and that was designed and built and is maintained and operated by Russia. I doubt the Kazakhs have much of anything to do with it other than as hired menial labor.

    I think they may have built a cubesat or two to launch on a Transporter mission or its Soyuz equivalent, but that’s all I can remember. They have a GEO comsat, but that was designed, built, and launched by the Russians.

    The only country on the list other than Russia that could offer meaningful help would be Turkey. Besides the famous Bayraktor drone, the Turks can build their own GEO comsats and even manned fighters and warships. It would be a shame to lose them to the dark side.

    Everyone else except Thailand? It’s a list of countries that for one reason or another have a beef with the Western world.

  • Edward

    mkent asked: “What space industry would that be?
    It seems that their interest in a space industry is recent, and their industry is not yet much but does exist.

    This move with China may be an attempt to increase this industry. They are joining a growing number of countries that see a bright future by industrializing space. I think that manufacturing products in space for use on Earth is the next big industry.

  • Dick Eagleson

    I’d call this a nice bit of chess play on the part of Kazakhstan. The spaceport reciprocity thing is likely just a bit of window dressing to make ILRS look superficially more like an actual partnership and not the PRC-directed project it actually is. I think Kazakhstan, which has no native-built rockets and little prospect of ever having any, is looking to host as many PRC launch ops at Baikonur as it can and is never likely to want to launch anything from PRC spaceports.

    That lease the Russians have on Baikonur has been a bone of contention recently as Russia has stopped making the payments on it. The PRC is appreciably more able to pay its bills – at least for now. Launching PRC rockets from Baikonur would also allow the expended boosters to fall in seriously rural parts of Kazakhstan instead of on PRC villages where people have cell phones. Any technical assistance Kazakhstan needs to keep Baikonur a going concern can also be had from the PRC.

    Just another indication that Russia’s efforts to reconstitute the Soviet Empire are being noticed by other former imperial possessions besides Ukraine and that these are doing whatever they can to line up relationships with a power that is able to restrain the Russians.

  • Jeff Wright

    That N-1/ Energiya pad could be spruced up for LM-9.

    This is perhaps the most relevant alliance-pact so far.

    Instead of having to do a boostback burn to the original launch site, just continue the parabolic arc towards China.

    A winged version of Starship/SuperHeavy (like Boeing’s SPACE FREIGHTER concept before profit seekers ruined the company) might be best with the flight overland.

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