Turkey applies for China-Russia moon project over US-led programme: reports

Turkey could play an influential role in the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) as it seeks to join the project led by China and Russia, bringing with it high space ambitions and a shifting political agenda, according to a space analyst.
The Middle Eastern nation had applied to be a member of the ILRS, an initiative to build a base at the moon’s south pole by 2035, Turkish and Russian media outlets reported on Monday. It is the first Nato member to apply.

The move “represents a new chapter in Turkey’s quest for a robust presence in space research and exploration,” the Istanbul-based Turkiye Newspaper wrote.

An artist’s rendering of the International Lunar Research Station. Photo: CNSA

Turkey’s application was also confirmed by Anatoly Petrukovich, director of the Space Research Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, at a press conference in Moscow, according to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA.

John Sheldon, co-founding managing partner of the London-based space consulting company AstroAnalytica, said he was not surprised Turkey was interested in joining the ILRS initiative.

Turkish involvement would benefit China given its space ambitions and programmes, with the implication of potential budget and technological contributions, he told the South China Morning Post via email on Wednesday.

Turkey has a space programme that includes building its own sophisticated satellites and space launch capability. It also has a lunar exploration programme that aims to make a hard landing on the lunar surface in 2026 to test key technologies, and to send a probe to orbit the moon by the end of the decade, he said.

In addition, the country has a fast-developing space industrial base and research capabilities. As a nascent space power, Turkey might have more to offer than some current ILRS member nations, implied Sheldon who also runs the Lunapolitics Substack page.

The move would also serve Ankara’s geopolitical goals, he said, as its foreign policy was going through a significant transition from being a Western-oriented country to looking increasingly towards the east and south.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish relations with the European Union, Nato, and the United States have become increasingly strained – and even estranged – Sheldon said. As a result, it was looking to exert influence as well as distance itself from the Western geopolitical agenda.

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“This means that Turkey is increasingly engaging with China and Russia. While there are particular differences with Moscow, Ankara finds its interests align with those of Beijing and Moscow on a range of issues in these regions,” Sheldon said.

He said there were political implications of Turkey joining the ILRS – instead of joining the US-led Artemis Programme which is viewed as a rival to the ILRS.

“It may be seen in the West as another nail in the coffin of what was once a close and important relationship,” he said.


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If Turkey’s application is accepted, it would be the 10th nation member of the China and Russian-led moon base project, following Venezuela, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, South Africa, Egypt and Thailand.

In comparison, 36 countries have signed on to the US-led Artemis Accords, a set of principles to guide “the peaceful, safe and transparent exploration and use of outer space”, according to Nasa.

However, the Artemis Accords are different from the Artemis Programme, and agreeing to some principles does not necessarily mean the signatory is part of the Nasa-led plan to establish a permanent base on the moon and enable human missions to Mars, observers have warned.

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