China to explore asteroids and comets in upcoming mission

Following the successful landing of its Chang'e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon earlier this year, China is looking to expand its space program by exploring an asteroid and a comet within the next three years.

According to China's state-run Xinhua news agency, China's space program will look to explore the near-Earth asteroid, known as 2016 HO3, as well as a main asteroid belt comet, known as 133P.

Liu Jizhong, director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration, said the whole mission would take approximately 10 years, though, at this time, it is still under discussion.

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Assuming it comes to fruition, a probe would be sent to 2016HO3, collect samples and then return to Earth with a return capsule bringing back the samples.

Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Asteroid 2016 HO3, which was discovered in 2016, keeps an orbit around the Sun that allows it to remain a "constant companion of Earth," NASA's JPL previously explained.

It also appears to circle Earth. Though it's too far away to be considered a true satellite, as our Moon is, it is considered a "quasi-satellite," the space agency added.

Comet 133P is a different type of comet sitting amongst the main belt, given its composition. It has "an asteroid-belt body" and has displayed "comet-like activity" in the past, according to Space.com.

It's also possible 133P is an "active asteroid," the news outlet added, similar to the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being explored by NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe.

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