China is planning a new space mission in which the Tianwen-2 probe will collect samples from the small near-Earth asteroid 2016 HO3 and fly to the main belt comet 133P (Elst-Pizarro).
The timing of the mission is not specified. But it has already been officially approved and included in the space launch program. Scientists and payload developers will hold a special scientific conference in the city of Hefei at the end of April this year, dedicated to the upcoming Tianwen-2 mission, RIA Novosti reports citing information from the China Space Science and Technology Corporation ( CASC).
2016 HO3 is an asteroid with a diameter of less than 100 meters. It is assumed that it moved in the same orbit as the Earth around the Sun, until about a hundred years ago it was captured by Earth’s gravity. At first, many scientists even considered this to be space debris – a piece of some kind of carrier rocket. Unlike a real satellite, a quasi-satellite’s orbit is unstable, so they eventually diverge from the planet.
What is interesting about the asteroid 2016 HO3?
The asteroid was discovered in 2016 by American astronomer Paul Chodas, who studied it with the Pan-STARRS1 telescope located in the Hawaiian Islands. Because it’s interesting? Observations of him allowed us to conclude: he never approached our planet closer than 38 distances from the Earth to the Moon and does not move away more than 100 of these distances.
In April 2019, the China National Space Administration announced that it was preparing an ambitious mission to study the asteroid 2016 HO3, as well as comet 133P (Elst-Pizarro). Comet 133P is a prototype main belt comet and an object in the Solar System that exhibits the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid.
What is the essence of the space mission “Tianwen-2”?
In one launch, China plans to fly around the asteroid, land on its surface, collect samples and transfer them to Earth in a return module. After taking off from the surface of the asteroid, the device with the return module will come as close as possible to Earth. The module will detach and head for Earth, while the spacecraft itself will continue its journey, heading towards the asteroid belt and orbiting comet 133P.
Alexander Zakharov, principal investigator of IKI RAS, told RIA Novosti that Chinese colleagues had invited Russians to participate in the project with a scientific instrument. Therefore, it was decided to install a device for the study of the plasma environment on board the Chinese automatic station Zhenghe, which will fly to Elst-Pizarro.