(Yicai Global) Feb. 20 -- As China plans to send a probe to Mars by 2020, it is also targeting "wanderers" roaming in space. China is planning to explore asteroids as well as Jupiter following its Mars program, scientists said.
The recently-published white paper by the State Council Information Office, titled "China's Aerospace 2016," calls for exploration of asteroids while outlining the major tasks for deep space exploration over the next five years, Xinhua News Agency reported today.
The expert committee has discussed the key scientific goals of China's deep space exploration for the next two decades, said Ji Jianghui, a member of the expert committee responsible for advising on scientific goals for China's space exploration and a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Purple Mountain Observatory. It has been decided that the country's plan to explore Mars will be followed by asteroid exploration and then exploration of Jupiter and the Jupiter satellite system.
"Experts' plan is to launch an asteroid space detector to explore and attach rockets to three near-Earth asteroids. Attaching means landing on the surface of asteroids to perform in-situ sampling and analysis," said Ji.
To date, only the US and Japan have successfully landed a probe on asteroids. Japan's Hayabusa-1 probe once landed on asteroid Itokawa and returned with samples.
Asteroids generally refer to rocks or metallic astronomical objects that go around the sun and are relatively small. The vast majority of the asteroids orbit in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Due to light mass, most of the asteroids are irregular-shaped. Though small and airless, these asteroids could contain important clues to the origin of life and water on Earth and original information about the initial formation of the solar system. Research on asteroids has significant scientific value. Since some asteroids' orbits are close to or intersect Earth's orbit, they could potentially collide with Earth, posing serious risks to our planet and its inhabitants.