China plans asteroid deflection test in 2026: reports

Artist's impression of an asteroid and Earth.
Artist's impression of an asteroid and Earth. (Image credit: Pixabay)

China knows which asteroid it will target to test planetary defense techniques in the 2020s.

The China National Space Administration plans to work at potentially hazardous asteroid 2020 PN1 in a mission now due to launch in 2026, according to a Space News report Tuesday (July 12). Earlier this year, China appeared to be targeting 2025.

Further details were revealed in a Chinese-language lecture (video in Chinese) by Long Lehao, chief designer of China's Long March rocket series.

Related: China to launch Tianwen 2 asteroid-sampling mission in 2025

"A slide presented by Long indicates that the impactor mission will launch in 2026 on a Long March 3B rocket," the SpaceNews report said. "The mission will include a separate impactor and orbiter. The former will impact near-Earth object 2020 PN1 with the latter spacecraft making observations."

The kinetic asteroid defense mission appears to be similar to NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) due to arrive at its own destination around September. NASA plans to send a kinetic impactor to a moonlet, Dimorphos at speeds of 4.1 miles per second (6.6 km/s), to try to alter its orbit around asteroid Didymos.

There are no imminent hazards known to scientists despite decades of careful searching by NASA and numerous other space entities. The term "potentially hazardous" is also complex, as it describes a set of space rock characteristics predicted to have a higher probability of eventual impact.

China has been working on a wider planetary defense plan involving research and technical studies, according to recent comments by CNSA deputy director Wu Yanhua. The agency also released a "white paper" in January discussing plans to construct a near-Earth object defense system.

The country is a mostly independent actor in space and came under fire from the Biden administration a few times recently. NASA criticized China for allowing an uncontrolled fall of a 23-ton core stage of a Long March 5B booster in 2021. NASA is also not allowed to "engage in any bilateral activities with China or Chinese-owned companies," according to NASA.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: