China says it will conduct a test of a kinetic impactor system to alter the course of an incoming asteroid in 2025. In the pursuit of a planetary defense system to protect against asteroids with the potential to hit Earth, the impactor system will involve a high-speed spacecraft that can deflect the asteroid into a different course.
The announcement was made by Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), in a statement to China Central Television.
The defense system will also include an early warning system, which will contribute to the security of humanity, Wu Yanhua said.
“We must start to improve the establishment of a ground-based and space-based monitoring and early warning system for asteroids,” he continued.
“In this way, we not only need to catalog, but also the key is to analyze which ones are critical and make judgments. The second is to study and explore related technologies and projects, whether it is possible to eliminate these threats, we need to carry out related technical research.”
The mission will supposedly take place at the end of 2025 or 2026, which is the end of China’s “five-year plan”. It is currently under review and awaiting approval, according to Global Times.
Asteroid defense has become a regular talking point for many governmental space agencies, as a large asteroid impact represents one of the few absolute risks to humanity. While it has been proposed that nuclear missiles could be the answer to a large object on a threatening trajectory, this would be a last resort, and a kinetic impactor would not produce the same fragmentation that a nuclear missile would.
NASA is already in the process of testing a kinetic impactor, after launching the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in November 2021. In September of this year, the multi-million-dollar spacecraft will slam into the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos in an attempt to alter its orbit, accompanied by an Italian satellite that will take photos of the monumental event. The test differs from China’s in that Dimporphos is not on a potentially threatening trajectory, while the asteroid that China will target will have a tiny chance of impacting Earth.
“The odds of something large enough to be a problem, that we would have to deflect, are pretty slim in our lifetimes,” said Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the spacecraft for NASA, in a statement to Nature.
“But sometimes your number comes up when you don’t expect it, and it’s good to have an insurance policy.”
China will also be expanding its existing asteroid monitoring system to complement the early avoidance system. With such extensive research from multiple nations in preventing incoming asteroid impacts, hopefully humanity can rest easy with one less existential threat to worry about.