China to send people to live on asteroids and mine them, authorities announce

There could be trillions of dollars of valuable material hiding in the space rock

An astronaut, anchored to a foot restraint, prepares to investigate the asteroid boulder.
An astronaut, anchored to a foot restraint, prepares to investigate the asteroid boulder.

The Chinese government plans to find, catch and land on an asteroid – before mining and even living on it.

Beijing hopes to be able to take the precious and rare materials that are thought to be inside of many asteroids by catching one as early as 2020, according to officials from China's space programme.

The country will launch its first spacecraft over the next three years or so, chief commander and designer of China’s lunar exploration program Ye Pijian told state media. But the project will be much broader than that – eventually using the asteroids as the base for a Chinese space station.

The reveal is just the latest ambitious Chinese space project. It recently revealed that it would look to build a base on the moon, potentially in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

The mission would involve landing a spacecraft on an asteroid and then using rockets to change its trajectory. If it did so succesfully, the rock could be pushed into the moon's orbit – getting it ready to be mined and have the precious metals extracted.

Like Nasa, which announced a similar plan recently, China hopes that the value of the metals taken from the asteroid would pay for the expense of the ambitious mission.

Nasa is also hoping to travel to an asteroid in the early 2020s, with two missions called Lucy and Psyche.

Asteroid mining has also been the focus of some private companies, who hope that there are trillions of dollars to be found in the space rocks. In 2015, Barack Obama made it legal for private citizens to own celestial bodies – opening up the ability to for people to buy and own their asteroids.

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