China and the UAE Will Work Together on a Moon Rover Mission

The newly established Emirati space program is seeking to launch a separate lunar mission later this year with the help of Japan.

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Emirati astronaut, Nora Al Matrooshi, second right, next to colleague Mohammad Al Mulla, talks to the journalists during their first public appearance at a news conference held by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
The UAE added Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla to its astronaut corps last year with the aim of one day sending them to the Moon.
Photo: Kamran Jebreili (AP)

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) fledgling space program has made a new ally in the race to the Moon, partnering with China to help it land a rover on the lunar surface. The newly forged partnership, the first space sector agreement between the two nations, highlights their respective lunar ambitions.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) signed an agreement with the Chinese National Space Administration on Friday that paves the way for a collaboration between the two nations on a future mission to the Moon. The agreement stipulates that the UAE will partner with China to land its rover on the Moon as part of the upcoming Emirates Lunar Mission.

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China has some experience landing on the Moon by virtue of its Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. The Chang’e-3 lunar lander touched down on the Moon in 2013 and its successor, Chang’e-4, landed on the far side of the Moon in 2019. Chang’e-5 not only landed on the Moon, it also returned samples from the lunar surface to Earth in December 2020.

The UAE, by contrast, is a bit of a newbie in the space game. The wealthy gulf nation officially put its hat in the ring by launching the Mars Hope Probe in July 2020, which went into orbit around the Red Planet in February 2021. Going to Mars was a big gamble; the UAE had previously sent satellites to low Earth orbit but a mission of this scale had never previously been attempted by the Arab country. However, UAE leaders seem determined to enter the space race, which is dominated by the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia, as they work to diversify the country’s oil-rich economy.

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The UAE now has its sights set on the Moon, with plans to launch the Emirates Lunar Mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November. The goal of the mission is to land a lunar rover called Rashid on a site known as the Lacus Somniorum, which is Latin for Lake of Dreams. A Japanese lander, Hakuto-R Mission 1, will carry the rover to the lunar surface. The details of the recent agreement with China were not disclosed, so it’s not yet clear what the nation’s role will be in landing Rashid on the Moon’s near side.

Both the UAE and China are hoping to land its nationals on the Moon. The UAE was one of the first countries to sign the Artemis Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and its international partners in NASA’s Artemis Program. The Artemis Program wants to land astronauts on the Moon no earlier than 2025 and establish a human presence on the lunar surface.

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NASA is already wary of China’s plans to go to the Moon, with both lunar programs hoping to land on the Moon’s south pole to explore possible resources such as ice-water trapped beneath the surface. The space race between China and the U.S. is certainly heating up, with NASA struggling to meet its deadline for the crewed Artemis 3 mission and with China claiming that it will land its astronauts on the Moon by 2030.

With the UAE’s recent agreement with China, it’s hard to see where the gulf nation will land in terms of the ongoing lunar rivalry. The UAE can either stick with its Artemis Accords partners, which include Canada, France and Saudi Arabia, or it can further cement its new relationship with a partner that might help it land a rover on the Moon.

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More: What to Know About Lunar Gateway, NASA’s Future Moon-Orbiting Space Station