Hot on the heels of the European Space Agency's announcement that it's going to have a go at deflecting an asteroid, researchers in China are intending to do the same. To the same asteroid, to boot, only with a fancier spacecraft.
Both the ESA's "Don Quijote" mission and the newly-revealed Chinese plan involve smashing spacecraft into the asteroid 99942 Apophis, which NASA pegs as having somewhere around a one in 250,000 chance of impacting the Earth in 2036. So, probably not, but who wants to play chicken with a 1,600-foot-wide space rock?
Well, a Chinese spacecraft, for one. Shengping Gong, who is heading a team at Beijing's Tsinghua University, is planning to send a tiny 20-some-pound, solar-sail-equipped craft into a reverse orbit, have it do some laps around the Earth and then shoot it off on a collision course with Apophis. It's low mass will have it smashing into Apophis at a much higher speed than Europe's 1,100 pounder, and Gong and his team estimate the Chinese satellite will be flying through space at over 200,000 miles per hour when it hits.
Will it do any good? Well, we'll just have to wait and see. Europe's mission is planned for sometime around 2016. China's doesn't have a timetable just yet.
One benefit to China's plan: Gong and his team say a mission could be initiated and deployed with a year.