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China’s Robotic Spacecraft To Collect Samples From Asteroid

China plans to launch an uncrewed probe to collect asteroid samples in 2025, according to the country’s official news agency.

The Chinese government has approved a plan to send a robotic spacecraft to collect samples from an asteroid, according to the China National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Space Programme Centre.

The Tianwen 2 mission is expected to lift off around 2025 and begin a path towards asteroid 2016 HO3, where it would land and collect samples. 

The small asteroid – said to be no larger than 100 metres long – was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope in Hawaii in April 2016. It was then described as a ‘quasi-satellite’ to Earth, as it does maintain a very distant but constant orbit around the Blue Planet.

According to the centre, the mission will launch a probe consisting of two parts – an orbiter and a re-entry module – toward 2016 HO3. After reaching the asteroid, the probe will use a mechanical arm to scoop dust from its surface. 

Orbit of asteroid 2016 HO3

Orbit of Asteroid 2016 HO3 / Nasa – JPL Caltech

The Tianwen-2 mission was announced by Zhang Rongqiao, the chief designer of China’s planetary exploration programme on China’s Space Day, 24 April.

After collecting the samples, the Chinese probe will continue to fly toward a comet located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the centre said in a notice inviting scientists to a workshop on this mission.

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The workshop is scheduled to take place this week in Hefei, Anhui province, and will be open to researchers from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, and Taiwan.

The main topics will include Tianwen 2′s basic plan, scientific goals, mission payloads, operational patterns as well as updates on asteroid studies. 

China’s uncrewed Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on Mars in 2021, making China the second space-faring nation after the United States to land on the planet. The mission successfully deployed a rover named Zhurong in May 2021. To date, the rover has travelled nearly 2,000 metres on the Red Planet and collected a great deal of raw data.

Other nations have also successfully landed probes on asteroids. This was the case of the 2021 Nasa OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that landed on a skyscraper-sized asteroid named Bennu, and the 2019 Japanese mission to the Ryugu asteroid. 

Source: E&T


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