China to land first moon probe next year (Update)

Jul 31, 2012 by Kelly Olsen
This file photo shows a Long March 3C rocket blasting off from the launch centre in Xichang, China's southwestern province of Sichuan, in 2010. China will next year attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time, state media reported, in the latest project in the country's ambitious space programme.

China has said it will land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time next year, as part of an ambitious space programme that includes a long-term plan to put a man on the moon.

China's third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013 and attempt to land and transmit back a survey of the moon's surface, state television reported late Monday.

If it succeeds, experts said it would be the first craft to land on the moon as part of a mission -- as opposed to performing a controlled crash landing at the end of one -- since the Soviet space programme achieved the feat in the 1970s.

"They (China) want a space programme that can be considered one of the finest in the world," said Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, Australia.

"If you want to be world leader in space, then you have to do missions like this."

The landing planned for next year 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, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme 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.

The Asian superpower has been ramping up its manned activities as the United States, long the leader in the field, has scaled back some of its programmes, such as retiring its iconic space shuttle fleet.

Graphic on key developments in China's space programme

In its last white paper on space, China said it was working towards landing a man on the moon -- a feat so far only achieved by the United States, most recently in 1972 -- although it did not give a time frame.

It has spent about 39 billion yuan ($6.1 billion) on its manned space programme since it began 20 years ago, state media have said.

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.

The first key achievement in that programme came in 1999 with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou-1 craft.

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.

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 Defense as saying the project was proceeding smoothly.

"I think it's well within China's capability and budget," Chen Lan, an independent space analyst, told AFP of next year's planned mission.

He said, however, that the third stage that calls for landing and then returning from the moon would require further technical progress in launch capability.

Chen said he envisions a timeframe of 2015-2016 for China to be ready to carry out that mission. But he did not see a manned mission to the moon as China's near-term objective.

"It's not a technical decision," he said. "It's a political decision."

Explore further: New countdown for launch of European navigation satellites

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China to launch manned spacecraft in June

Jun 09, 2012

China will launch a spacecraft this month to conduct its first manned space docking, state media said Saturday, the latest step in a plan aimed at giving the country a permanent space station by 2020.

China's spacecraft comes back to Earth

Nov 17, 2011

China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou VIII returned to Earth on Thursday, state media reported, after completing two space dockings that have pushed forward the nation's ambitious space programme.

China completes second space docking

Nov 14, 2011

China completed its second space docking on Monday, state media reported, as it moves closer towards fulfilling its ambition to set up a manned space station.

China spacecraft set to return to Earth Friday

Jun 28, 2012

A Chinese spacecraft with three astronauts aboard will return to Earth Friday after a nearly two-week mission that included the country's first manual docking in orbit, state media said.

Recommended for you

SpaceX rocket explodes during test flight

2 hours ago

A SpaceX rocket exploded in midair during a test flight, though no one was injured, as the company seeks to develop a spacecraft that can return to Earth and be used again.

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

20 hours ago

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

20 hours ago

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

20 hours ago

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

Voyager map details Neptune's strange moon Triton

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager's historic footage of Triton has been "restored" ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2012
US hasn't scaled back its program, it is transitioning to a new generation of crafts and it has always done so by long periods of retirements. Mercury-Gemini 2 years, Gemini-Apollo 3 years, Apollo - STS 6 years, STS - CRS (Dragon ISS service) 1 year. In this last retirement, crew still goes up by Soyuz tickets, so there isn't even an interruption on the manned side as opposed to the ISS supply services.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2012
Idiocy.

"US hasn't scaled back its program" - Torbjorn
Satene
1 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2012
..US hasn't scaled back its program..
I see, try to convince me...
gblaze41
3 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2012
Satene, LOL your link is only orbital telescopes, it has nothing on planetary probes such as the Mars lander Curiosity or Pluto's New Horizon or Dawn flights, or Lunar orbiter or a dozen other space missions. It's we who need convincing that you have a clue.