Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Chinese company to launch its first ‘space mining robot’ this year

Origin Space, a private space resources company based in Beijing, China, to launch its first-ever “space mining robot” in November, on top of a Chinese Long March series rocket as a secondary payload. Named NEO-1, the small mining robot will represent a milestone in the country’s efforts to make use of space resources.

The robot weighs around 30 kilograms and is designed to enter a 500-kilometer-altitude sun-synchronous orbit. However, NEO-1 will not be mining any asteroids itself but will test technologies that, in the future, could be put into practice. Its job in Earth orbit will be “to verify and demonstrate multiple functions such as the spacecraft orbital maneuver, simulated small celestial body capture, intelligent spacecraft identification, and control,” explained Yu Tianhong, co-founder of Origin Space.

In addition to NEO-1, an optical space telescope called Yuanwang-1 – and dubbed the “Little Hubble” – also from Origin Space, will be launched in 2021 to identify suitable space mining targets.

Subsequently, a NEO-2 will depart towards the Moon to perform the same work as NEO-1, but on our natural satellite.

The concept of space resource mining is highly controversial. Many scientists have called for the solar system to be protected from such practices. Still, superpowers, like China and the United States, continue to investigate how to extract these ores from other celestial bodies.

No wonder U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that encourages the mining of resources from the Moon and asteroids. Now, NASA is developing a mission to explore the possibilities in this segment (asteroid mining). Last week, for example, the space agency announced that it would pay private companies to collect “dirt” from the Moon.