China Points Toward Asteroid Defense System, Comet Mission

China will discuss building a defense system against near-Earth asteroids, a senior space agency official said Saturday, as the country steps up its longer-term space ambitions.Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration, did not provide further detail in his opening remarks at a ceremony for China’s Space Day in the eastern city of Nanjing.China has made space exploration a top priority in recent years, aiming to establish a program operating thousands of space flights a year and carrying tens of thousands of tons of cargo and passengers by 2045.The European Space Agency last year signed a deal worth 129 million euros ($156 million) to build a spacecraft for a joint project with NASA examining how to deflect an asteroid heading for Earth.China is pushing forward a mission where one space probe will land on a near-Earth asteroid to collect samples, fly back toward Earth to release a capsule containing the samples, and then orbit another comet, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Ye Peijian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.The mission could take about a decade to complete, Ye said. China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding last month to set up an international lunar research station.

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