China will launch the Tianwen 2 asteroid sampling mission in 2025
China will launch the Tianwen 2 asteroid sampling mission in 2025

China will launch the Tianwen 2 asteroid sampling mission in 2025

China plans to launch its second deep space exploration effort in 2025, the country’s chief designer of the Tianwen 1 Mars mission said.

Zhang Rongqiao told China Central Television on May 13 that the Tianwen 2 asteroid probe has entered the engineering development stage.

“The components are undergoing comprehensive tests,” Zhang said, speaking a day before the one-year anniversary of the landing of China’s Zhurong Mars rover, part of the Tianwen 1 mission.

“We are progressing on schedule and hope to launch it in 2025,” he said.

Tianwen 1 is a big step for China; it was the country’s first fully developed interplanetary mission and made China’s first landing on another planet. But the pursuit will also be complex and challenging.

The first 10-plus years of Tianwen 2’s mission will target the small near-Earth asteroid Kamo’oalewa, which may actually be part of Earth’s exploding moon.

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The spacecraft will collect samples of space rock using a touch-and-go technique similar to that demonstrated by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe.

Tianwen 2 will also attempt an unprecedented anchoring and tethering method, using four robotic arms to land on Kamo’oalewa, with drills on the arm securing the probe to the 40-meter-wide asteroid’s surface.

Tianwen 2 is expected to return to Earth more than two years after launch, unloading its priceless cargo.

But this will not be the end of the mission. After launching the reentry capsule, Tianwen 2 will use Earth’s gravity to help propel it toward another ancient solar system relic: an “active asteroid,” an object with the properties of asteroids and comets. (Active asteroids used to be known as major coconut comets, but the term has recently fallen out of favor because they tend to be more asteroid-like in composition.)

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The spacecraft will embark on an approximately seven-year journey to 311P/PANSTARRS. Once there, it will orbit and analyze the object using a variety of cameras and spectrometers to gather information on questions such as the mysteries of Earth’s water sources.

The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences will also be involved in the active asteroid phase of the mission. The agency was chosen to provide solar wind and particle detectors following a 2019 call for proposals announced by the China National Space Agency (CNSA).

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The mission concept has changed since the original proposals were offered at the end of the last decade. Initially, the spacecraft will visit the active asteroid 133P/Elst-Pizarro after the sampling phase. The choice of a second target object will likely depend on the timing of the spacecraft launch.

The mission was also tentatively named “Zheng He” after a famous Chinese naval explorer in the early 1400s, with a name that evoked historic exploration achievements as China embarked on a new expedition into space.

Further, Tianwen 3, currently scheduled for launch in 2028, will seek to collect samples from Mars and send them to Earth, while Tianwen 4 will send probes to Jupiter, according to CCTV+.