Russia joins Chinese asteroid sampling mission

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China has selected a Russian scientific payload to accompany its upcoming near-Earth asteroid sampling mission. It will also later be a question of visiting a comet evolving in the main belt.

After Japan and the United States, China also aims to collect samples from an asteroid. This ambitious mission, to be launched around 2024, will target a small near-Earth near-Earth device named Kamo’oalewa (OR 2016H03). The probe will then return to Earth to deliver its samples, before relying on the gravity of our planet to head towards the main asteroid belt. Its second target will be a comet, named 133P / Elst – Pizarro.

Russia joins the adventure

For this mission, the Chinese vessel, tentatively named ZhengHe after a famous Chinese naval explorer in the early 1400s, will carry a range of imaging, multispectral and spectrometric cameras as well as radar, magnetometer and payloads for detect a range of particles.

We have known for a few days that the Russia will offer several of these instruments built by the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched a call for proposals two years ago for this major mission.

In addition to its sampling capsule, ZhengHe will also carry a nano-orbiter and a nano-lander for remote sensing and field exploration of Comet 133P. The spacecraft will use an explosive to expose the comet’s subsoil before attempting a landing. Once there, instruments will take care ofstudy the composition of the object’s subsoil, with a particular interest in water and birds.

Illustration of the orbit taken by the asteroid Kamo’oalewa. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Multiplying partnerships

China and Russia have a long history of cooperation in the field of space flights which dates back to the 1950s when the Soviet Union supported the early development of Chinese rockets.

More recently, in March, officials from the Chinese and Russian space agencies signed an agreement providing for the construction of a research station on the moon. This complex of facilities will be designed to conduct multidisciplinary and versatile research related to the exploration and operation of our satellite. The objective will be to establish in the long term at the level of the South Pole installations animated by robotic systems while being able to support a human presence if necessary.

Finally, remember that the Chinese station “Tiangong” (Heavenly Palace) will soon succeed the ISS in orbit. On board, the taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) will conduct various science experiments and prepare for future long-term missions. We know that foreign astronauts will also be able to enter the station. Russia, which will not participate in the development of NASA’s future lunar orbiting station, could therefore send several of these cosmonauts on board.

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