“We skim the cream off with our device”

Russian scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences won the competition for participation in the Chinese mission to fly to an asteroid and comet – “Zheng He” (Zheng He). If they get the consent of Russia to include scientific work in our Federal Space Program, the device of the IKI RAS for measuring plasma in 2024 will go to distant minor planets. On Wednesday, the RAS Space Council for its part made a decision on the expediency of including this work in the FKP. Now it’s up to the state corporation.

A year and a half ago, the Chinese Space Agency turned to Russia with an official offer to participate in the international payload selection competition for the Chinese project “Zheng He”. Zheng He is a legendary Chinese admiral, traveler and diplomat. He organized and led seven large-scale naval military-trade expeditions to the countries of Indochina, Hindustan, the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. There are versions that the expeditions organized by him even reached the shores of America and Australia. And in honor of this prominent figure, expeditions to an asteroid and a comet are named.

Several institutes from Russia participated in the competition, but the winner was the IKI RAS with a plasma measuring device. He will go on an interplanetary space flight at the Chinese station in 2024.

Its first target is the asteroid 2016 HO3 Kamo’oaleva (“Oscillating Celestial Object” – from Hawaiian) – a very small asteroid from the near-Earth group Apollo, which is about 100 meters in diameter. It is currently the smallest, closest satellite. It is also referred to as the so-called quasi-satellites of the Earth, which remain close to the planet for a long time. The distance to this ranges from 40 to 14 million kilometers.

The Chinese station will first fly up to Kamo’oalev, take a sample of soil from him, and the spacecraft separated from it will take him to Earth.

“The rest of the Zheng He, after performing long gravitational maneuvers, will fly to one very interesting comet and work there for several years,” explains Anatoly Petrukovich, director of the IKI RAS. “If we talk about the goals of the mission, I must say that the Chinese have chosen them wisely.” According to Peturkovich, the choice of a quasi-satellite of the Earth is the most economical option.

As for the chosen comet, this is also an interesting option. The comet itself is not very convenient, according to the director of the IKI RAS, an object for research, because it is difficult to synchronize with it due to the shell of gas around it. “But the Chinese made a cunning move with a horse or a dragon,” says Petrukovich, “they chose as their target a half comet, half an asteroid from the asteroid belt. It “gazes” (releases a classic cometary tail – Auth.) Only periodically, that is, it turns into a comet only for 10 years. This mission has three objectives: ground return, surface exploration and spectrometry, and plasma envelope exploration. ”

Having extensive experience in creating instruments for foreign missions, IKI RAS confidently took part in the competition and won. Now China is waiting for a response from Roscosmos – consent to participate and willingness to allocate funds. The deadlines are rather tight, and therefore scientists, according to Petrukovich, three months ago sent three different options for the implementation of this project to the appropriate department of our respected state corporation.

Despite the fact that the amounts indicated there are small, corresponding to the amounts that the institute had previously indicated for the manufacture of a single device for its participation in a foreign mission, Roskosmos has not yet responded. I asked the RAS Council to make its additional decision on the advisability of participating in such a project, which the scientists did.

“We are already working on the project, without waiting for a decision,” says Petrukovich. “We are creating layouts. Participation in the “Zheng He” mission will provide the most important scientific results. “

The colleague was supported by Academician Lev Zeleny, scientific director of the IKI RAS, stressing that such missions are very beneficial to Roscosmos: the Chinese make an expensive apparatus, and Russia, due to the installation of its instruments on it, then receives a great return in the form of a scientific result. “This is a very profitable investment for Roscosmos … We use our device to remove the cream from the whole mission.”

The meeting of the RAS Council, which was held online, was virtually attended by the executive director for promising programs and science of Roscosmos, Alexander Bloshenko. But he, as it turned out, was not entirely in the subject: he asked Petrukovich to tell him the order of numbers, that is, the amount that Roscosmos should give out for this project (although the amounts were indicated in the three previous requests to the Civil Code). In general, Bloshenko called the project interesting and promised the scientists his support.

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