At the moment, there are no crewed space stations orbiting the Moon, but it looks like the future may have two: one from NASA, called the Gateway, and now another one, this one a partnership between Russia’s Roscosmos and China’s National Space Administration. This is interesting, because Russia had earlier declined to participate in NASA’s lunar Gateway, and China’s space agency has gone on the record stating it didn’t think the orbiting lunar station was a good idea. This is a bit of a reversal for both agencies, and will certainly make the lonely lunar orbital space more exciting.
Personally, I really like the idea of a lunar orbiting station. The Gateway plans that NASA has been developing position the station as a hub to support longer-term lunar missions, offering a place to refuel spacecraft, exchange crews, do research, and potentially serve as a point to launch missions to Mars or the asteroid belt or other exciting things.
I’d imagine the joint Sino-Russian station would perform similar roles. The press release from Roscosmos regarding the signing of the memorandum for cooperation on the station describes it as
“An international lunar science station is a complex of experimental and research facilities created on the surface and/or in orbit of the moon, designed to conduct multidisciplinary and multipurpose research work.”
...which is pretty general, and even opens the door for lunar surface-based stations, too.
Thanks to SpaceX’ Crew Dragon capsule the world once again has three nations— the United States, Russia, and China — capable of launching humans into orbit (from 2011 to 2019 NASA relied only on Russian Soyuz capsules), and it looks like we’ll have the makings of an interesting space rivalry on and around the Moon in the near future.
This is good news for everyone, I think. A little bit of international rivalry helps keep space exploration moving. I’m curious to see how this plays out.