China’s third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013, the state Xinhua news agency reported late yesterday. Other reports said it would land and transmit back a survey of the moon’s surface.
If successful, the landing would be China’s first on the lunar surface and mark a new milestone in its space development. It is part of a project to orbit, land on and return from the moon, Xinhua said.
China said in its last white paper on space it was working towards landing a man on the moon, although it has not given a time frame.
Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space program as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
It kicked off in 1999 with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou-1.
Two years later, Shenzhou-2 lifted off carrying small animals and in 2003 China sent its first man into space. Since then, it has completed a space walk in 2008 and an unmanned docking between a module and rocket last year.
Most recently, a 13-day voyage of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft became China’s longest-ever space mission and was notable for including the nation’s first woman astronaut among its three-member crew.
The crew also achieved China’s first manual docking with an orbital module, the Tiangong-1, a highly complex manoeuvre first conducted by the Americans in the 1960s and essential to building a permanent manned space station.
Next year’s planned lunar probe launch will follow the Chang’e 1 in 2007 and Chang’e 2 in 2010, both named for the Chinese goddess of the moon.
Xinhua quoted the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence as saying the project was proceeding smoothly.