China will strive to launch a satellite to orbit the
moon by December of 2006 from Xichang Satellite Launch
Center in Sichuan province, southwest China, the country's
top space official said Thursday.
tentative plan for the launch is one year earlier than was
announced late last year. Sun Laiyan, vice-director of the
China National Space Administration (CNSA), said last
December the satellite will be launched by 2007.
Luan Enjie, CNSA director and chief commander
of the lunar satellite project, said Thursday research and
development of five major systems of the project are under
way. They are the satellite system, the launch vehicle
system, the launch site system, the survey and control
system and the ground application system.
project has government funding of 1.4 billion yuan (about170
million US dollars).
Addressing the first work
meeting on the project, Luan said the project has been named
Chang'e Project, while the first lunar satellite has been
named Chang'e No.1. Chang'e refers to a goddess who flew to
the moon in an ancient Chinese fairy tale.
According to the design, the satellite system
consists of a satellite platform and payload, which will be
based on China's Dongfanghong 3 satellite platform and
payload and other mature satellite technology. The satellite
will be 2,350 kg in weight with 130 kg of payload, and will
orbit the moon for one year.
A home-made Long
March III A carrier rocket will be used to launch the
The satellite would obtain
three-dimensional images of the lunar surface, analyze the
content of useful elements and materials, and probe the
depth of the lunar soil and the space environment between
the earth and the moon.
China's lunar probe
program is divided into three phases. The first phase of the
program for sending a satellite to orbit the moon is
underway. It would be followed by a proposed landing of an
unmanned vehicle on the moon in the second stage by 2010,
and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned
vehicle by 2020 in the third phase.
probes are always a subject of great interest, given the
Earth's nearest neighbour probably holds the key to
humanity's future subsistence and development, experts said.
The moon contains various special resources
for humanity to develop and use, Luan said. The moon will
provide a good platform from which to explore outward at
He said China's unmanned
fly-by mission will obtain three-dimensional images of the
lunar surface and analyze the content and distribution of
useful elements on the moon's surface, measure the density
of lunar soil and explore the environment between the moon
"The achievements of China's
first lunar exploration will surely provide useful new
information for humanity's moon research and resources
investigation," Luan said.
has accumulated some expertise and experience in space
activities, lunar exploration is a challenging and arduous
task, said Sun Jiadong, chief architect of the lunar probe
"It is not just that we are
sending a satellite farther away than we did in the
past," Sun said. "We've got to work out every
single problem regarding satellite, rocket and tracking
To send the orbiter to circle
the moon, which is on average more than 384,000 kilometres
away from the Earth, Chinese scientists will have to
readjust the speed of the orbiter many times after it blasts
off, said Ye Peijian, chief designer of the project's
Following the fly-by
project, China will proceed to soft-land an unmanned vehicle
on the moon and then to scoop up lunar samples for return to
Earth, according to Luan.
The fly-by, landing
and returning phases are expected to be completed in 20
years, Luan said.
The world has seen the
second upsurge of lunar exploration since late 1990s,
following the first round in 1950s, according to Luan.
United States astronaut Neil Armstrong became
the first human being to set foot on the Moon on July 20,
1969. Earlier this year, the US announced that it planed to
"return to the moon."