Moon fly-by to soar by 2007
China inaugurated its lunar exploration programme on Wednesday by announcing its plans to send a satellite on a moon "fly-by" within three years.
A leading team with the programme held its first meeting in Beijing on Wednesday to lay out the moon probe's scientific mission and its development schedule, Zhang Tao, an official with the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, confirmed Thursday.
Details of the meeting were not immediately available.
But the China National Space Administration said in a statement that the lunar mission is another of China's key sci-tech projects in the wake of the country's massive manned space mission.
Sun Laiyan, deputy director of the space agency, said the moon-fly by satellite will travel to the lunar planet by 2007. It will obtain three-dimensional images of the lunar surface and study its composition.
Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the lunar exploration project, said Chinese technicians and experts are developing China's first lunar exploration craft, which, weighing around two tons, is projected to orbit the moon for at least 12 months.
The lunar orbiter was named "Chang'e-I,'' an apparent reference to an ancient Chinese legend about the fairy Chang'e who flies to the moon.
In fact, the lunar fly-by mission is just part of a three-phase moon exploration scheme, according to Sun.
After sending a satellite into lunar orbit, China will launch an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2010, and scoop up lunar soil and rock samples for return to Earth in around 2020.
Sun described the fly-by satellite project as an important step toward China's exploration of deeper space, and the Moon will provide a good platform from which to explore outward at longer distances.
China will use its Long March III A launch vehicle to launch the satellite, Sun said.
In a related development, Wang Yongzhi, chief designer of China's manned space programme, said last week China plans to send two astronauts up on a five-to-seven-day mission in 2005. It will later build a space station.