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China starting work on lunar probe
( 2003-12-31 17:21) (chinadaily.com.cn)

China is starting work next year on a satellite to orbit the moon by 2007 and plans to land a lunar probe by 2010, a space official said Wednesday.

The government also is studying plans to have an unmanned craft return with samples of the lunar surface by 2020, said Sun Laiyan, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration.

But he said the last two stages of the program were still under review by scientists before official approval.

"These two stages are under intense review, which means that 2010 and 2020 are the probable times for these two missions."

"After the lunar flyby, we would proceed to landing and returning," Sun said at a news conference.

The satellite project was designed to obtain three-dimensional images of the lunar surface, analyze the content of useful elements and materials on the surface, and probe the depth of the lunar soil and the space environment between the Earth and the Moon, said Sun.

China would use its Long March III A launch vehicle to launch the satellite, which would be based on its Dongfanghong satellite platform, said Sun.

He described the satellite project as an important step for China's exploration into deeper space, and the Moon would provide a good platform from which to probe deeper space.

The lunar program is also known as the Chang'e Program, referring to a goddess who reached the Moon in an ancient Chinese fairy tale.

Sun was speaking a day after China opened a new phase in its civilian space program with the launch of its first research satellite developed with the European Space Agency. The satellite is to be one of a pair that studies the Earth's magnetic field.

China successful carried out its first manned space flight in October. Astronaut Yang Liwei circled the earth for 21 1/2 hours before landing in the country's northern grasslands.

Sun stressed that all the moon missions under consideration would be unmanned.

Sun also reaffirmed China's intention, announced previously, to launch a second manned space flight within the next two years.

In the nearer term, plans call for launching a new geostationary weather satellite and collaborating with more countries on joint research projects, Sun said.

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