Russia and China united in the exploration of asteroids and comets

Russia and China united in the exploration of asteroids and comets

China aims to launch an ambitious space mission around 2024, mainly aimed at collecting samples of the small asteroid Kamo'oalewa. Once this is done, the spacecraft will return to Earth to deliver the samples, subsequently using the planet's gravity to direct the module towards the asteroid belt, until it enters the orbit of comet 133P / Elst-Pizarro. In all this, the space agency of the People's Republic has also selected a specific Russian-made payload, an event that sanctions the collaboration in the space field of the two economic giants.

Russia will provide tools designed and built by the Space Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences. The payload was selected following a 2019 call for proposals on the subject issued by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) for the combined mission. The module, tentatively named ZhengHe, in honor of the famous Chinese naval explorer of the early 1400s, will carry a range of multi-spectral and spectrometric cameras, as well as a radar, magnetometer and other instruments capable of detecting various types of particles.

According to what reported by Oleg Vaisberg, space physicist at the Russian Space Research Institute, the components renamed ULTIMAN and ULTIWOMAN will be dedicated to the detection of ions and electrons, but Russia will also provide a detector useful for understanding how plasma of the solar wind interacts with small solid bodies. During the mission, the module will thus be able to measure the possible soft atmosphere and ionosphere of the comet, as well as study the interaction between the solar wind and the two small bodies.

The module will use four robotic arms to land on Kamo'oalewa, then using them to attach the probe to the surface of the asteroid. In addition to the capsule that will bring the collected material back to Earth, ZhengHe will also carry a nano-orbiter and a nano-lander designed for exploration and detection on the surface of Comet 133P. Thanks to an explosive charge, the subsoil will be made accessible to the nano-lander, who will use its instruments to study the composition of the comet, with a special interest in the possible presence of water and volatile substances.

China and Russia have a long history of cooperation in space projects, dating back to the 1950s, when the Soviet Union supported the development of the first Chinese missiles. More recently, in March, China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding on the creation of a joint project for lunar robots, planning remote vehicle landings on the lunar south pole, but which could also expand towards the creation of stable structures of large dimensions, possibly also suitable for hosting a human crew.

On the other hand Russia, already an active member of the project concerning the International Space Station (of which you can buy the Lego Ideas model at this link ), will not participate in NASA's Gateway, an initiative to establish an outpost in lunar orbit. A sign that the equilibrium of space exploration is changing compared to the past decades?

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