Science

China's Chang'E 2 succeeds in thrilling asteroid flyby

An artist's conception of the Chang'E lunar orbiter come asteroid probe
An artist's conception of the Chang'E lunar orbiter come asteroid probe
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An artist's conception of the Chang'E lunar orbiter come asteroid probe
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An artist's conception of the Chang'E lunar orbiter come asteroid probe

China has now joined the very select group of countries to have succeeded in carrying out an interplanetary probe mission. According to reports from China's official news agency Xinhua, the Chang'E 2 probe passed a mere 3.2 km (2 miles) from the near-Earth asteroid Toutatis at 8:30:09 GMT on December 13, making it the closest asteroid flyby to date ... and resulting in some remarkable photographs.

Toutatis has a long axis of 4.5 km (2.8 miles) and a mass in the neighborhood of 50 gigatons. Although it is not an Earth-crossing asteroid (one whose orbit actually crosses that of the Earth), it can approach to within half a million miles. Toutatis' orbit is chaotic, but even so the probability of colliding with Earth is essentially zero in the next 600 years. It does cross Mars' orbit and makes frequent close passes by Jupiter, so it is more likely to be eventually ejected from the inner solar system than it is to hit Earth.

Initially launched as a lunar orbiter in 2010, the primary mapping camera on Chang'E 2 is a pushbroom species. These cameras provide high resolution with a minimum of weight, but are difficult to reposition quickly and reports originating with Chinese National Space Administration researchers state that the Toutatis photos were actually taken by the solar panel monitoring camera, which was powered up shortly prior to the flyby.

The method used to send Chang'E 2 to its rendezvous with Toutatis (it was sent from lunar orbit to the Earth's L2 Lagrangian point and then into an extremely low delta-V orbit) is also a first.

Source: Xinhua, Sky and Telescope

6 comments
notarichman
so now we know that China is extremely interested in mining asteroids...better get your act together miners, NASA, and commercial space corps. Once a company or country starts mining asteroids, the economy for the rest of the world will suffer. the early bird....
Joseph Mertens
Their amazing shots suck being only ONE they lack the ability to get the real camera for the mission on target and pathetically incapable of matching orbit trajectory for a real look at the asteroid beyond a brief snap shot by a camera designed to look at the solar panel wow what a great achievement that a bunch of MIT students with lab junk could have done better and cheaper.
Slowburn
China is getting good at space exploration.
barsunstzu
They couldn't get a picture with the good camera because they don't understand the technology. Their hackers are everywhere.
Slowburn
China does dot have a heavy lift rocket yet which greatly limits their throw weight into interplanetary space with out doing a in space refueling.
Fritz Menzel
So far, just about every astroid photo I've ever seen makes we realize we shouldn't mine them. We should mash them and pour gravy over them.
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