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Riding an asteroid: China's next goal in space

Baku, March 1, AZERTAC

After sending a probe to Mars in 2020, China plans to explore three asteroids and land on one of them to conduct scientific research, according to a Chinese asteroid research expert, according to China Daily.

The "China's Space Activities in 2016" white paper, recently issued by the Information Office of the State Council, also mentioned asteroid exploration in outlining the major tasks for the country's space industry in the next five years.

"The experts' plan is to fly a probe by an asteroid; to fly side by side with an asteroid for a period; and to land on a third one to conduct in situ sampling analysis on the surface," said Ji Jianghui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Purple Mountain Observatory.

So far, only the United States and Japan have landed probes on asteroids.

"China will send the Chang'e-5 lunar probe to the moon and bring samples back this year. If that mission succeeds, it would mean China, like Japan, would be able to bring back samples from asteroids to study in labs on Earth," Ji said.

Scientists will give priority to detecting near-Earth asteroids to analyze their probability of colliding with Earth.

They are also eager to study the formation and evolution of asteroids, which might shed light on the origins of the solar system, as well as the origins of life and water on Earth.

Chinese scientists plan to fly a probe side by side with an asteroid called Apophis for close observation, and land on the asteroid 1996 FG3. The whole mission would last around six years, Ji said.

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