Concept: China’s space exploration startup Origin Space has launched a robot prototype ‘NEO-01’ into low orbit Earth with a large net that can scoop up debris or waste left behind by other spacecraft. The 30kg robot was launched alongside other satellites on the Chinese government’s Long March 6 rocket. The aim is to forge new paths to the future of technology capable of mining elements on asteroids.

Nature of Disruption: Since the creation of Planetary Resources, the world’s first asteroid mining venture, in 2009, more than a dozen companies from around the world have joined the fledgling sector, including 3D Systems of the US and Astroscale of Japan. As the startup claims, unlike Astroscale’s technology, which uses magnets to collect space debris, NEO-01 can use a net to trap debris and then burn it with its electric propulsion system. NEO-01 would even look into deep space to see if there are any tiny celestial bodies. Origin Space intends to conduct a pilot to test the spacecraft‘s capabilities in asteroid mining and space debris removal.

Outlook: China’s Origin Space plans to launch many other space telescopes and additional spacecraft by 2045 to complete the first commercial mining of asteroids. China has also stepped up plans to land a probe on a near-Earth asteroid to gather samples and expedite a mission to create a near-Earth asteroid defense system. Beijing aspires to catch up to Russia and the US, to become a global space power by 2030.

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