CNSA's Zhang Kejian (left) and Sherif Sedky (right) of EGSA sign a cooperation agreement on the ILRS in Beijing, Dec. 6., 2023. Credit: CNSA

HELSINKI — Egypt and China signed a series of space agreements Wednesday including cooperation on the China-led International Lunar Research Station.

Zhang Kejian, China National Space Administration (CNSA) administrator, and Sherif Sedky, Chief Operating Officer of the Egyptian Space Agency (EGSA), signed a cooperation agreement between the CNSA and the EGSA on the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in Beijing, Dec. 6. 

The pair also inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between their respective governments on  cooperation and peaceful use of outer space, according to a CNSA statement

Areas of cooperation include joint research in lunar and deep space exploration, the development and launch of spacecraft, space infrastructure, satellite data reception and applications, the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation, space science and astronomical observation.

The development follows increasingly close space cooperation between the two countries. China began establishing a satellite assembly, integration and test center for Egypt in Cairo in 2019. The AIT center opened in June this year. 

China also launched the Misrsat-2 remote sensing satellite for Egypt just days ago. China funded the satellite, which completed its assembly and testing at the new AIT center.

Egypt is the first Arab country to join ILRS and the second on the African continent to sign up. South Africa joined in September. It appears to be part of a wider strategy of Chinese space engagement.

“Egypt is significant for China as it sees it as the door to the Arab world and Africa to develop space ties and prospects for its space industry,” Marc Julienne, head of China research at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), told SpaceNews.

He also notes that 17 engineers from Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya attended a training session at the Cairo AIT center back in 2017.

The development also highlights a shift in China’s approach to space engagement. Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at Secure World Foundation, noted China’s “apparent shift from turnkey projects to the more technology and know-how transfer elements,” when commenting to SpaceNews on Sino-Egyptian space cooperation earlier this year. 

The cooperation agreements will guide future collaboration between China and Egypt. It will also help advance space technology and the fostering of a comprehensive strategic partnership, according to the CNSA statement.

ILRS plans and partners

The China-led ILRS envisions constructing a permanent lunar base in the 2030s, with precursor missions in the 2020s. The initiative is seen as a China-led, parallel project and potential competitor to the NASA-led Artemis Program.

China has been making a concerted effort to attract countries to its ILRS project this year. Venezuela, South Africa, Pakistan and Azerbaijan are among the countries have joined in 2023.

Meanwhile 33 countries have now signed the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, 10 of which have done so this year. Angola is the most recent signatory of the Accords, which outline best practices for space exploration. It signed up Nov. 30, becoming the third African nation to do so.

China has also made recent additions to its grouping. The Croatia-based Adriatic Aerospace Association (A3), a non-governmental, non-profit organization, signed an MoU on the ILRS with the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL) under CNSA Nov 24. An Emirati university signed up 10 days earlier.

DSEL stated earlier this year that China aims to complete the agreements with founding members of ILRS by October. No statement on a finalized list of founding members has so far been made, and agreements continue to be forged. China has stated it will establish an organization, named ILRSCO, based in the city of Hefei in Anhui province to coordinate the initiative. 

Russia officially ratified a cooperation agreement for joint construction of the ILRS late last month, according to Russian media reports. China’s Global Times tabloid, under the auspices of Party-controlled People’s Daily, described the collaboration as a “perfect match.”

The future balance of contributions was described as China “bringing abundant resources and skills while Russia contributes its expertise and innovative thinking.”

ILRS SignatoryType
South AfricaCountry
Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO)Inter-governmental Organization
nanoSPACE AG (Switzerland)Firm
International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA, Hawaii)Organization
National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT)Institute
University of Sharjah (UAE)University
Adriatic Aerospace Association (A3) (Croatia)Organization

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...