China to Conduct First Asteroid Defense: Collision Millions of Kilometers Away

On October 22, at the main forum of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology annual meeting held in Hefei, Anhui, Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, director and chief scientist of the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory, and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, introduced China’s 15-year plan for deep space exploration.

Academician Wu revealed that in the next 15 years, China’s deep space exploration will implement ten major engineering tasks in three fields: lunar exploration, planetary exploration, and carrier technology.

Specifically, these include the fourth phase of the Chang’e 6/7/8 lunar exploration projects, International Lunar Research Station, manned lunar landing, Magpie Bridge communication and remote comprehensive constellation system, Tianwen-2 asteroid sampling exploration, near-Earth asteroid defense, Tianwen-3 Mars sampling, Jupiter system and interplanetary traversal exploration, and solar system marginal exploration.

In the carrier field, China will implement a heavy-lift rocket project, breaking through key technologies such as 10-meter rocket body diameter and high-thrust liquid oxygen-methane engines, elevating China’s near-Earth orbit carrying capacity from 25 tons to 150 tons, laying a solid foundation for future deep space exploration.

In terms of near-Earth asteroid defense, a kinetic impact will be implemented on an asteroid millions of kilometers away to address the extremely low probability yet highly hazardous event of a near-Earth asteroid impacting Earth. This will change its orbital path, and an impact effect assessment will be carried out in orbit, achieving “accurate impact, effective push, measurable outcomes, and clear explanations.”

Previously, Chen Qi, the dean of the System Research Institute of China’s Deep Space Exploration Laboratory, disclosed the development blueprint for China’s near-Earth asteroid defense. The plan is to achieve a kinetic impact on an asteroid by 2030, deflective pushing between 2030-2035, and preliminary asteroid orbit control capability by 2045.

Wu Yanhua, Deputy Director of the China National Space Administration, stated that China will begin to establish a near-Earth asteroid defense system to jointly address the threat of near-Earth asteroid impacts, contributing China’s efforts to protect Earth and human safety.

China’s first near-Earth asteroid defense mission aims to achieve three major scientific objectives:

  1. Unveiling the evolutionary laws of the impact target dynamics and detecting the orbital characteristics of the target asteroid.
  2. Revealing the inherent characteristics of the impact target and detecting the shape, size, composition, and structure of the target asteroid.
  3. Unveiling the laws of momentum transfer during impact, and conducting research on terrain changes, ejecta distribution, and other impact effects.

On September 27, 2022, NASA conducted the first asteroid defense exercise in human history, using a satellite named “DART” to collide with an asteroid 11 million kilometers away with a diameter of 160 meters, successfully altering its orbit.