China will soon launch its first circumlunar satellite as part of its ambitious moon exploration program enters the stage of implementation, sources with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in Beijing on Friday.
Development of the satellite, called Chang'e I after the legendary Chinese goddess Chang'e who flew to the moon, and the carrier Long March 3A has been completed after numerous tests, said a CNSA official, who declined to be named.
The moon probe satellite is expected to fulfill a string of missions, including collecting three-dimensional moon images and exploring lunar features.
More than 10,000 scientists and technicians took three years to develop Chang'e I and its supporting systems, a relatively short time compared with other countries, said Luan Enjie, chief commander of the lunar program.
The satellite launch will mark the first step of China's three-stage moon expedition called Chang'e project, which will have a landing on the moon and launching a moon rover around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.
The moon probe project is the third milestone in China's space technology after satellite and manned spacecraft projects.