A team of Hong Kong scientists will join the nation's first lunar project by developing a device to recover samples for the journey back to earth.
Polytechnic University yesterday signed a contract with the China Academy of Space Technology on the research and development of a 'surface sampling and packing system' for the third and final phase of Chang'e, the nation's first lunar exploration programme, Xinhua reported.
The device will be used to collect samples of lunar rock in a mission expected to be completed in 2017.
Beijing has adopted Hong Kong as a trade and financial centre, but has long neglected the city's scientific talent and resources, say mainland space experts.
In recent years Hong Kong researchers' ability to develop sophisticated devices for space missions has been recognised, and Beijing is likely to give them wider access to the nation's space projects.
Professor Yung Kai-leung, associate head of the university's department of industrial and systems engineering, will lead the research.
Yung has helped produce sophisticated tools for previous space missions, including the development of a Mars rock corer for the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express Mission; forceps for Russia's Mir Space Station; and a soil preparation system for Phobos-Grunt, Russia's ill-fated expedition last year to one of the moons of Mars.
Beijing divided the Chang'e project into three phases - orbiting, landing and returning - over two decades starting from 2003. The first phase has been completed and the second is expected to start next year.
Yung could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the university said he was recently appointed as a member of the lunar project's expert panel.
A senior satellite expert with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation yesterday said the collaboration with Hong Kong scientists would bring technological and political benefits.
Most Hong Kong scientists received excellent education and training from top universities in the West, and their ideas would almost certainly be of value to China's space projects, the expert said.
But political reasons were also part of Beijing's consideration, said the expert.
'When Hong Kong residents see a Chinese lunar rover on television, they can point at it and say: 'Look, that part is made in Hong Kong. Stronger involvement brings stronger unification.'