Chang'e I, named after a mythical Chinese goddess who, according to legend, flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket at 6:05 pm. on October 24 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
After the probe enters the moon's orbit, it will brake several times to slow down its speeds so that it can be captured by the lunar gravity to become a real circumlunar satellite.
The 2,300-kg satellite carried eight probing facilities, including a stereo camera and interferometer, an imager and gamma/x-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a high energy solar particle detector and a low energy ion detector.
It will fulfil four scientific objectives, including a three-dimensional survey of the Moon's surface, analysis of the abundance and distribution of elements on lunar surface, an investigation of the characteristics of lunar regolith and the powdery soil layer on the surface, and an exploration of the circumstance between the earth and the moon.
The satellite will relay the first picture of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific explorations of the moon for a year.
China's lunar orbiter project has cost 1.4 billion yuan ($187 million) since research and development of the project was approved at the beginning of 2004.
The launch of the orbiter marks the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover at 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 at around 2017.
China carried out its maiden piloted space flight in October 2003, making it only the third country in the world after the former Soviet Union and the United States to have sent men into space. In October 2005, China completed its second manned space flight, with two astronauts on board.
The launch of Chang'e I came shortly after Japan launched its first lunar probe, Kaguya, in mid-September, while India is planning to send its own lunar probe into space next April, sparking off concerns of a space race in Asia.
But Luan Enjie, chief commander of China's lunar orbiter project, said that "China will not be involved in moon race with any other country and in any form."
"China will, in pursuing its policy of peaceful use of airspace, share the achievements of the lunar exploration with the whole world," he told Xinhua.