MOSCOW – Russia plans to cooperate with China in robotic missions to the moon and Mars and other space projects, officials said Thursday.
"We have switched from cooperating on technological elements and devices to developing big scientific projects in space research," Yuri Nosenko, a deputy head of Russia's Federal Space Agency, told reporters in a televised hookup from Beijing, where he and other officials were attending a Russian national exhibition.
He said the space-related contracts Russian companies had signed with China were worth tens of millions of dollars.
Nosenko said that Russia had agreed to help China in its lunar research program and China would also take part in Russia's project of sending an unmanned probe to Mars' moon, Phobos, to take soil samples and deliver them back to Earth.
China will build a mini-satellite that would be carried by the Russian probe and released in the vicinity of Mars to conduct research, said Georgy Polishchuk, the head of the NPO Lavochkin company, which is working on the mission. It is set to launch in 2009.
Polishchuk said that China also had expressed interest in joining a later robotic mission expected to land on Mars.
Nosenko wouldn't elaborate on specific details of the moon and Mars projects or say how much they would cost.
Nikolai Testoyedov, the head of the NPO Reshetnev state-controlled company that built satellites for Russia's GLONASS global-positioning system, said he expects China to cooperate with Russia in the field.
Russia sold China the technology that formed the basis of its manned space program, which launched its first astronaut in 2003 and two others in 2005. The Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft closely resembles the Russian Soyuz.
The next Chinese manned space flight is due next year. Officials say they also want to send up a space station and land a robot probe on the moon by 2010.
While hailing the bilateral cooperation with China, Nosenko has scoffed at media allegations that China's Shenzhou spacecraft could replace Russia's Soyuz to ferry crews to the international space station.
"We are glad to see the successes of our Chinese colleagues, but it would be extremely difficult to achieve that," he said, adding that Soyuz boasts an excellent safety record that has taken decades to build.