China plans to launch lunar probe this year


BEIJING, AFP

China will launch its first lunar probe this year and the nation’s fledgling space program will have the ability to land a man on the moon within 15 years, state press reported Tuesday.

The “Chang’e I” lunar probe will be launched later this year aboard a Long March 3-A carrier rocket, Huang Chunping, the former head of rocket science at China’s manned space program, told Xinhua news agency.

The probe will provide 3D images of the moon’s surface, survey the lunar landscape, study lunar micro-waves and estimate the thickness of the moon’s soil, the report said.

No date was given for the launch of the flight.

Huang said that China’s next generation carrier rocket, likely to be named the Long March 5, would be ready for launch in “seven or eight years,” and the vehicles’ engines had already been successfully tested.

The long-awaited new rocket would be using non-toxic fuels and increase the payload capacity of the Long March series from nine tons to 25 tonnes, he said.

“The goal to land… men on the moon can surely be achieved in 15 years, though some unexpected difficulties could appear,” Huang told Xinhua, speaking on the sidelines of China’s ongoing parliamentary session.

The timing of a mission would depend on funding and the further development of the new rocket.

Huang earlier said China would launch its third manned spaceflight, the Shenzhou VII, next year, with three astronauts on board. During the flight, China will attempt its first-ever space walk, he added.

China became the third nation to place a man in space, after the former Soviet Union and the United States, when Yang Liwei piloted the Shenzhou V on a short mission in October 2003.

Two years later, the Shenzhou VI carried two astronauts into space on a five day mission.