China has begun to develop a defense system against near-Earth asteroids that could potentially hit Earth, according to a key figure in the country's space industry.
Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration, said on Friday that China has started forming a research and development system for defense against near-Earth asteroids, to improve the world's capability for monitoring, warning about and handling the extraterrestrial hazards.
"We will make plans for the defense system, develop defense simulation software and arrange exercises for essential procedures. We want to share our solutions with other members in the international community and work with others to safeguard the mother planet's safety and its people," he said.
The first step, Wu said, is to set up a comprehensive tracking and early-warning network through the deployment of satellites and ground facilities.
"We need to categorize near-Earth asteroids and then analyze which will likely become a threat to humankind. Then we will study the technologies that can be used to neutralize the hazards," he said.
Wu also said the administration plans to carry out an experimental mission in 2025 or 2026 to launch a craft to closely observe and then take action against a particular asteroid, which is believed by scientists to pose potential hazards.
"We will use the experiment to verify technologies and methods on how to deflect an asteroid heading for Earth. It will allow us to explore ways to avoid extraterrestrial bodies' threat to Earth."
This is the first time that China has revealed a specific roadmap for defense against near-Earth asteroids.
Zhang Kejian, director of the space administration, said in April last year that China would set up a system to deal with asteroid hazards, but he did not elaborate.
Chinese scientists have been discussing approaches about diverting potentially dangerous asteroids for years and have produced preliminary solutions.
Space researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in July last year that carrier rockets can be launched to hit large asteroids to divert their hazardous trajectory.
Internationally, the United States' NASA and the European Space Agency have started experimental programs that involve space- and ground-based assets to track, calculate and warn about asteroids headed toward Earth.
Pang Zhihao, a space industry observer in Beijing, said a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies and expertise would be needed to build an asteroid defense system, so only a handful of space-faring parties would be able to design and operate such a system.
"Although the odds of a large asteroid hitting Earth are very low, it is necessary for space communities around the world to join hands in establishing a universal early-warning and response system so that people will no longer need to be worried about it," he said.