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ESA, CNSA heads discuss future space plans

Video calls are the first meeting between the new ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher and CNSA Leader Zhang Kejian.

HELSINKI – The leaders of the European Space Agency and China’s National Space Administration held a video call on April 1 to outline their respective plans for the coming years.

Zhang Kejian, Administrator of the CNSA, and the new ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, who took up the post on March 1, discussed a number of topics in a brief CNSA press release (Chinese).

The parties outlined upcoming activities, with China recently approving a 1

4th Five-Year Plan for 2021-2025 and discussing exploration of the moon and deep space, Earth observation and cooperation in the Earth Station.

Josef Aschbacher tweeted after the meeting that he had congratulated Zhang on the Chang’e-5 lunar test return mission, which in December 2020 Delivered to Earth 1.73 kg of lunar samples from Oceanus Procellarum on the near side of the moon.

Karl Bergquist, ESA’s International Relations Administrator, said SpaceNews that ESA and CNSA went through ongoing activities, including telemetry, tracking and control support activities for the Chinese investigation program.

ESA assisted both the recent Chang’e-5 and ongoing Mars Tianwen-1 missions with ground station support.

“We have some Earth observation working groups looking at issues of common interest,” Bergquist said, including data exchange, data for global monitoring change, calibration and validation and more.

On the issue of potential involvement in the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a project for China and Russia recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding, Bergquist said, the CNSA administrator mentioned the initiative and also reported on the recent agreement with Russia.

ILRS is understood originally involves upcoming Chinese robot Chang’e lander, rover, orbiter and other spacecraft and Russian Luna missions centered on the Moon’s south pole. It could be expanded to include more permanent robotic infrastructures and potential crew members by the 2030s.

Zhang stated that both China and Russia want the ILRS to be open to cooperation from all nations, including ESA.

Bergquist expects discussions to continue in some form in the future, but at the moment “we do not have many details regarding the content of ILRS”, and as such there is “no ESA position on this issue.”

ESA and China have been discusses collaboration on potential lunar South Pole missions in recent years. The two parties previously collaborated on the Double Star project and are working on the Solar Wind-Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission scheduled for launch in 2023.

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