In coming years, China will launch a probe to collect asteroid samples.
As soon as 2024, China could launch a space probe toward a nearby asteroid with the mission of harvesting and returning samples — marking China's first foray into deep space.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced a new mission intended to learn how asteroids and other small space objects form and how they interact with solar radiation, according to Nature News. And the CNSA says it wants to collaborate with any other space agency that could contribute to the project.
So far, the Chinese government hasn't actually approved the plan to sent a robotic probe to the nearby asteroid, named "2016 HO3," which has a similar orbit around the sun to Earth's.
But if the plan goes ahead, the CNSA told Nature that the whole project would take about ten years, with the probe launching in about five. After collecting samples, the probe would drop it off back home on Earth before spending the next seven years exploring the asteroid belt.
The samples, when compared to terrestrial rocks, could not only help explain how asteroids form, but what makes them different from Earth.
READ MORE: China plans mission to Earth’s pet asteroid [Nature News]
More on asteroids: When This Asteroid Zips by Earth, Scientists May Hitch a Ride
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