China begins construction of the world’s longest-range radar system to bolster defenses against a near-Earth asteroid impact

    China Fujian [facetted eye]a new high-resolution deep-space active observing facility in the country's southwestern city of Chongqing.  Photo: courtesy of BIT Chongqing Innovation Center

China Fujian [facetted eye]a new high-resolution deep-space active observing facility in the country’s southwestern city of Chongqing. Photo: courtesy of BIT Chongqing Innovation Center

To play an increasing role in global efforts to protect planet Earth, China recently began construction of a new high-resolution active deep-space observing facility in the country’s southwestern Chongqing municipality, aiming to increase its defense capability against near-Earth asteroids to strengthen and sensing capability for the Earth-Moon system.

The new observation facility, codenamed China Fuyan [facetted eye], will consist of distributed radars with more than 20 antennas, and each antenna will be 25 to 30 meters in diameter. Together they are to carry out high-resolution observations of asteroids within a radius of 150 million kilometers, the Global Times learned from the project manager, the Beijing Institute of Technology.

The Beijing Institute of Technology Chongqing Innovation Center, China’s National Astronomical Observatories under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University and Peking University will also join the Fuyan construction process, which will become the world’s longest-range radar system.

Long Teng, president of the Beijing Institute of Technology, who is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said in a university statement to the Global Times that the system includes multiple antennae, just like the insect’s faceted eyes , we give it one lively name, China Fuyan.

Long said the construction will fill empty gaps and meet the country’s needs, including near-Earth defense and space sensing capabilities, as well as frontier studies of Earth’s habitability and asteroid formation.

The Fuyan program follows China’s announcement in April that it would build a low-Earth asteroid surveillance and defense system to deal with the threat of asteroids impacting spacecraft and help protect the Earth and humanity.

A ground-based and space-based asteroid monitoring and warning system will be established to catalog and analyze asteroids that may pose a threat to manned space activities. Technology and engineering are being developed to disperse these threats.

The new radar facility in Chongqing will also support the country’s efforts to probe the territory between the Earth and the Moon, including finding a suitable landing target for the Tianwen-2 probe mission, Beijing Institute of Technology has told the Global Times.

Zhang Rongqiao, the chief designer of the Tianwen-1 Mars probe mission, told media in May that Tianwen-2 has entered the prototype R&D phase and is expected to be launched by 2025.

Tianwen-2 will be a decade-long mission during which the probe will make observations and bring back samples from near-Earth asteroid 2016HO3. According to Space.com, the target asteroid is also called Kamo’oalewa, which may actually be a blown-off piece of Earth’s moon.

According to Long, the program will take place in three phases. Four radars with a diameter of 16 meters will be set up to test the feasibility of such a system and create a 3D image of the moon.

Currently, two of the four radars have been built in Chongqing and are expected to be operational by September this year.

In the second phase, the number of antennas will be increased to more than 20 and a high-resolution distributed radar system, equivalent to one 100 meters in diameter, will be formed, allowing the country to study and image asteroids tens of millions of kilometers away and the relevant technology to verify .

The third stage will eventually realize the 150-million-kilometer observation capacity and become the world’s first space radar capable of 3D imaging and dynamic surveillance and active observation of celestial bodies throughout the inner Solar System.

The Chongqing Innovation Center of the Beijing Institute of Technology told the Global Times on Sunday that the timing and scope of the third phase have yet to be determined as those decisions would be made based on results and studies conducted in the previous phases.

Space experts contacted by the Global Times on Sunday said that unlike the working principle of the 500-meter-aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), which is designed to collect passive observations of radio signals from space, the new Fuyan will actively shoot radio signals to celestial bodies to get new observations.

“This deep-space radar system would certainly cover the entire range in the Earth-Moon system since the moon is only about 400,000 kilometers away. And that would mean the system would be able to monitor the country’s spacecraft and the spacecraft’s journey to the moon, which would be of great help to China’s lunar exploration,” said Wang Ya’nan, editor-in-chief of the Beijing-based magazine Aerospace Knowledge, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The system’s high-resolution active observation capability, extending 150 million kilometers, would be extremely valuable for us to learn more about the details of near-Earth asteroids, and the more we know about them in terms of size, shape and flight information, the better we can do it we defend or intervene in its effects, Wang noted.

As China’s space technology has made numerous notable advances, including successful space exploration to the Moon and Mars, as well as human spaceflight programs, China is playing an increasingly important role in global efforts to defend against near-Earth asteroids, observers noted.