BEIJING, April 18 (Xinhua) -- China on Thursday unveiled its plan to explore an asteroid and a comet, inviting scientists around the world to participate in the program.
The mission will involve exploring a near-Earth asteroid, named 2016HO3, and a main-belt comet, named 133P, said Liu Jizhong, director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.
China has offered to carry scientific instruments developed by other countries on the mission, according to Liu.
He said the mission is still under discussion. According to the current plan, a probe will be sent to fly around asteroid 2016HO3 and then land on it to collect samples.
Then the probe will fly back to the proximity of Earth, and a return capsule will be released to bring the samples back to Earth.
After that, the probe will continue its journey. With the assistance of the gravity of Earth and Mars, it will finally arrive at the main asteroid belt and orbit the comet 133P to explore it.
The whole mission will last about 10 years, according to Liu.
Scientists aim to measure the physical parameters of the asteroid and the comet to get an understanding about their orbit, rotation, shape, size and thermal radiation.
They also want to study their morphology, surface composition and internal structure.
When the asteroid samples are returned, scientists will conduct lab analysis on its physical properties, chemical and mineral components, isotopic composition, structure and age.
They will compare the samples with meteorites, as well as ground-based observation, remote-sensing and in-situ analysis.
Scientists are also interested in the environment of the comet 133P and the potential water and organic materials on it. Enditem