China to launch Tianwen 2 asteroid-sampling mission in 2025
An artist’s illustration of the asteroid Kamo’oalewa, the target of China’s Tianwen 2 asteroid-sampling mission. China plans to launch its second-ever deep space exploration effort in 2025, according to the chief designer of the country's Tianwen 1 Mars mission. 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 testing," Zhang said, speaking one day before the one-year anniversary of the landing of China's Zhurong Mars rover, part of the Tianwen 1 mission. Tianwen 1 was a big step for China; it was the country's first fully homegrown interplanetary mission and pulled off China's first landing on another planet.
The 10-year-plus Tianwen 2 mission will first target the small near-Earth asteroid Kamo'oalewa, which may actually be a blasted-off piece of Earth's moon. Tianwen 2 will also attempt an unprecedented anchor-and-attach method, using four robotic arms to land on Kamo'oalewa, with drills on the arms securing the probe to the surface of the 130-foot-wide (40 meters) asteroid. Tianwen 2 is expected to return to Earth more than two years after launch, dropping off its invaluable cargo. The spacecraft will embark on a roughly seven-year-long voyage out to 311P/PANSTARRS. The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences will also be involved in the active-asteroid phase of the mission.
The mission concept has changed since early proposals were offered late in the last decade. The mission was also tentatively named "Zheng He" after a famous Chinese naval explorer of the early 1400s, with the name evoking historic exploration feats as China embarks on new expeditions into deep space. Further ahead, Tianwen 3, currently scheduled for launch in 2028, will attempt to collect samples from Mars and deliver them to Earth, while Tianwen 4 will send a probe to Jupiter, according to CCTV+.
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