Chinese Asteroid Defence Test To Target 2019 VL5

14th Apr 2023
Chinese Asteroid Defence Test To Target 2019 VL5

China’s asteroid deflection and observation test will target the 2019 VL5 object when its test finally launches in 2025. The Chinese asteroid defence test will make the country the second world-wide to make such an effort.

The mission has parallels with NASA’s DART mission and will serve as a test as well as a chance for observation in the longer term.

Chinese Asteroid Defence Test – the details

A Long March 3B rocket will be used and carry an impactor and observer craft. Chen Qi from the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory made the announcement during the IAA Planetary Defense Conference in Austria.

The spacecraft will have different trajectories with the observer reaching it first to collect data regarding its topography. The second craft will be the impactor, which will hit the 2019 VL5 object with 6.4 kmps relative velocity. The goal is to change the asteroid’s velocity by five centimetres per second. 

Data will be evaluated before, during, and after the impact. The craft will carry optical, radar, and laser remote sensing payloads as well as a particle analyzer, giving scientists the chance to understand the results of the mission from multiple perspectives. There will also be a high resolution camera observing the impact as well as the debris and ejecta it will cause.

The asteroid is due to be observed from ground-based telescopes in the meantime. The Chinese plan to utilise the Xuntian space telescope for this when it launches.

It is easy to see the comparison with the DART mission, or “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” as well as Hera, which is observing the target system and the results of the collision.

In 2022, the DART craft made contact with Dimorphos, a satellite asteroid circling the larger Didymos. It was the first ever successful demonstration of redirecting and deflecting an asteroid.

The mission to deflect 2019 VL5 involves a smaller asteroid but it will launch two craft at the same time.

China’s Planetary Defence Plan

The defence plan being put into practice by the country is in full swing, with many plans to deal with the threat posed by asteroids, including an early warning system. China’s 2022 space white paper outlined that the protection from these objects is crucial.

Chen also claimed that the country has made progress on multiple areas such as impact deflection modelling simulations. He also used his speech to invite other nations to get involved.

2019 VL5 is an Aten-class asteroid, and will cross the Earth’s orbit for less than a year. The mission has backup plans, including targeting 2020 PN1 if the mission doesn’t launch on time.

Choosing the target was not as easy as one may assume, as it had to consider the risk factor, orbital inclination, magnitudes for observation and the value of the mission. The launch is currently planned for 2025, but the contingency plans suggest the date isn’t nailed on. 

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