• Asteroid Lutetia

Asteroid Lutetia (Photo : Getty Images)

Chinese scientists gathered at a forum on Monday, May 8, to discuss asteroid exploration and explore the possibility of harvesting resources and establishing bases in minor planets, China Daily reported.

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China has yet to carry out asteroid expeditions. Meanwhile, Japan, the United States and the European Space Agency have already carried out such missions.

Every year, approximately 1,000 asteroids fly by Earth, many of which contain a large amount of metals like iridium, platinum and rhodium, said Ye Peijian, who specializes in deep-space exploration at the China Academy of Space Technology.

“In the near future, we will study ways to send robots or astronauts to mine suitable asteroids and transport the resources back to Earth,” he said in the forum held in Beijing.

“In the long term, we will consider using resources from asteroids to build facilities in space or so to provide materials to support interstellar travel.”

According to Ye, building bases in asteroids, which are called minor planets, can also be a possibility. These bases will be helpful in interstellar exploration, serving as stopovers or jump-off points for unmanned probes on deep space missions.

Ye said that this will lessen the amount of fuel probes need to carry for such journeys and can even lengthen its lifespan and flight range.

In order to make these plans a reality, Ye said that scientists must come up with newer, more advanced technologies, including a satellite-based navigation system, long-endurance power technology and an electric propulsion system that can support an asteroid expedition.

Another benefit that people can derive from asteroid expeditions include understanding the chemical and physical composition of asteroids, said Xu Weibiao from the Key Laboratory of Planetary Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

According to Xu, 157 potentially dangerous and large asteroids have already been identified by humans. These celestial bodies are said to be capable of destroying the Earth.

“We must study asteroids so we can work out how to break the dangerous ones or change their routes,” Xu said at the forum.