(Sen) - China will launch an unmanned lunar rover in the second half of 2013, according to the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, reported the Xinhua news agency this week.
Chang'e-3 will be China's third Moon orbiter and has the aim of landing a robotic rover on the lunar surface.
The lunar program's chief scientist said Chang’e-3 will land on the Moon and explore its surface. It is expected to lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.
China's first two lunar probes, Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-,2 launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively and successfully entered the Moon's orbit. Chang'e-1 gathered a complete map of the Moon whilst Chang'e 2 captured a higher resolution map, with images released in February this year.
The Chang'e probes, named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, are part of a three phase plan - orbit, land, return. Phase 1 was achieved with the first two Chang'e probes. Next year's mission is part of the landing phase. The third phase of China's Chang'e mission is to return lunar samples to Earth.
Progress towards the third stage of China's lunar exploration - returning Moon samples to Earth - was also given a boost this week with the news that its powerful new rocket engine tested successfully. The new liquid oxygen and kerosene engine will generate 120 tons of thrust and will be used to power its next generation of rockets. The current engine powering its Long March rockets have a 75 ton thrust. The new engine will be fitted to the Long March 5 rocket which is expected to have its maiden flight in 2014. The Long March 5 launch vehicle is being designed to lift 25 tons of payload to near Earth orbit and 14 tons to geostationary orbit.
In addition to its robotic exploration of the Moon, China are also planning to send humans to the Moon, a fact revealed by their official paper released in December 2011 which set out its long term plans for space exploration. The section entitled Human Spaceflight stated that “China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing”.
China recently demonstrated its space technology when its Shenzhou spacecraft docked with Tiangong-1, its orbiting space lab.