China’s next moon mission to include Egypt and Bahrain, member of US Artemis Accords

As China pushes ahead with its lunar ambitions, Egypt and Bahrain have signed on as international partners to build and deliver scientific instruments to the moon on board the Chang’e-7 mission to search for water ice at its south pole, planned for 2026.

A cooperation agreement was signed last week between the Egyptian Space Agency, Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency, and the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics for the joint development of a hyperspectral camera.

Announcing the agreement on Tuesday, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the camera will image and analyse lunar surface materials from orbit, including the moon’s polar regions.

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According to the CNSA statement, Egyptian space officials said the project is the first opportunity for Egypt and Bahrain to work together on lunar exploration, and that Egypt looks to deepen its collaboration with China in future space exploration.

The hyperspectral camera, to be built by Egypt and Bahrain with the help of Chinese engineers, is among six international payloads selected by the CNSA to fly on board Chang’e-7.

Thailand, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, and a Hawaii-based NGO known as the International Lunar Observatory Association will provide the other five.

John Sheldon, co-founder of the London-based consultancy AstroAnalytica, said the Arab countries’ participation in Chang’e-7 is a capacity-building exercise, with their space capabilities at a relatively nascent stage.

While Bahrain’s space activities are mainly focused on Earth observation, it seeks to “establish itself as the hub for regional space cooperation, given its modest budget and its geographical position between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, among whom there is much competition and rivalry,” he said.

According to Sheldon, Egypt is comparatively more advanced in terms of number of satellites in orbit and the establishment of a new satellite assembly, integration and testing facility, with China’s help.

“Arab countries are willing to seek cooperative space projects with each other to build capacity, share costs, and achieve mutual strategic objectives,” he stressed.

While Egypt is a member of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) – an initiative proposed by China and Russia to build a base on the moon by the mid-2030s – Bahrain has signed on to the US-led Artemis Accords.

China and Russia are not among the 36 signatories to the accords, a set of principles to guide the exploration and use of outer space, which differ from the Nasa-led Artemis programme to establish a permanent moon base and enable human missions to Mars.

Sheldon said Bahrain’s participation in Chang’e-7 should be seen as a matter of opportunity rather than “some shrewd strategic calculation vis-à-vis US-China relations”.

“Bahrain’s relations with the United States are almost sacrosanct, given the presence of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and there are very few voices in Bahrain’s elites that question this relationship.”

The Artemis Accords do not preclude signatories from taking part in other initiatives such as the ILRS, he added.

A memorandum of understanding on space cooperation was signed between Bahrain and China last month, during King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s state visit to Beijing.

According to the memorandum, the two countries will work together in fields such as lunar and deep space exploration, satellite development and launches, remote sensing, space science research, the joint observation of space debris, as well as personnel exchanges and training.

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