China will begin work on mining in space this year. Researchers will launch a “robot miner” by the end of 2020, but for now, they will only test the device.
The private Chinese company Origin Space, which develops extraterrestrial space resources, is set to launch its first “space robot miner” in November 2020. Their NEO-1 device is a small satellite that weighs about 30 kg. It is designed to enter a sun-synchronous orbit. It will be launched with a Chinese Long March rocket as a secondary payload.
This small spacecraft will not be engaged in real mining, but at first, it will only test technologies that will allow it to do so in the future. “The purpose of the flight is to test and demonstrate a variety of functions such as spacecraft orbital maneuver, simulated small celestial body capture, intelligent identification, and spacecraft control,” said Yu Tianhong, co-founder of Origin Space.
Origin Space, formed in 2017, calls itself the first Chinese space-focused firm. China’s private space sector emerged after the government decided in 2014 to develop the industry. First of all, they will focus on mining from asteroids.
The next mission, Yuanwang-1, is scheduled for 2021. The satellite development deal was struck earlier this year with DFH Satellite, Ltd., a subsidiary of China’s main state-owned space contractor CASC.
An optical telescope will be installed on the satellite, designed to observe and monitor asteroids in near-Earth space. Origin Space notes that identifying suitable targets is the first step towards harnessing space resources.