BEIJING (Reuters) -- China will hold discussions on building a defense system against near-Earth asteroids, a senior space agency official said on Saturday, as the country steps up its longer term space ambitions.
Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration, did not provide further detail in his opening remarks at a ceremony for China's space day in the eastern city of Nanjing.
China has made space exploration a top priority in recent years, aiming to establish a program operating thousands of space flights a year and carrying tens of thousands of tons of cargo and passengers by 2045.
The European Space Agency last year signed a deal worth 129 million euros ($156 million) to build a spacecraft for a joint project with NASA examining how to deflect an asteroid heading for Earth.
China is pushing forward a mission where one space probe will land on a near-Earth asteroid to collect samples, fly back toward Earth to release a capsule containing the samples, and then orbit another comet, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing Ye Peijian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The mission could take about a decade to complete, Ye said.
China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding last month to set up an international lunar research station.