China to try and knock asteroid off path with new monitoring and defence system

The project is similar to NASA's DART project, which took off last year.
The project is similar to NASA's DART project, which took off last year. Photo credit: Getty Images

China is developing a new space monitoring and defence system which will be tested by deliberately crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said it hopes to carry out the experiment as early as 2025, according to a report in the Global Times.

Deputy head of the CNSA, Wu Yanhua, made the announcement on China's official Space Day, saying the asteroid detection system was designed to protect spaceships as well as "Earth and mankind".

The monitoring and warning system will be based on Earth as well as in space, with the ability to catalogue and analyse asteroids that pose a threat to humanity.

That will include simulation software to analyse for possible impacts from near-Earth asteroids, Wu said.

Space observer and military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times that China's defence system could be used to supplement those already being developed by the United States and Russia.

"China proposes to build a community with a shared future for mankind, and it is the duty for a major space power to protect mankind from possible disasters that could end the entire human civilisation," Zhongping said. 

The CNSA's plans to crash into an asteroid to alter its trajectory is similar to NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) project, which took off in November last year.

DART was announced in 2017 after a joint collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) called Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) was cancelled in 2016.

The NASA spacecraft will smash into a binary asteroid to see if it can change its course, with impact scheduled for some time after September this year.

The asteroid is called Didymos, the Greek word for 'two forms', and has two moonlets, the smaller of which is the target.

Didymos B, at 160m in diameter, will be smashed into at around 6km/s.

"DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA's proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said after the launch.

"This test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth."

Lindley Johnson, planetary defence officer at NASA said DART was "one aspect" of NASA's work to prepare Earth should it ever be faced with an asteroid hazard.

"We have not yet found any significant asteroid impact threat to Earth, but we continue to search for that sizable population we know is still to be found," Johnson said.

"Our goal is to find any possible impact, years to decades in advance, so it can be deflected with a capability like DART that is possible with the technology we currently have."

NASA is also working on a Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a space-based infrared telescope scheduled for launch later before 2030.

It's designed to discover and characterise potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles (48.3 million km) of Earth's orbit.