China's first lunar satellite may be launched during a fly-by mission in April in 2007, said Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration on Tuesday, May 16.
"The first lunar orbiter which has been under construction from early 2006 is expected to be tested at the space launch center in December. And the orbiter will be launched next April if everything functions well", the Wuhan-based Changjiang Daily quoted Luan as saying.
The moon probe project will achieve three firsts for space exploration. The lunar orbiter will finish the five-hour fly-by without detection from the ground, it will receive signals from the moon using the world's smallest antenna and it will find the best surveying station for approaching the moon.
Luan, also chief commander of China's lunar orbiting program, was speaking at a lecture on the development of China's space flight and moon probe at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province.
"During the last two years, scientists have made great achievement in moon probe research and the main engineering roadblock has been tackled", Luan said.
The programme is dubbed the "Chang'e Project," and the first lunar orbiter is named "Chang'e-I," referring to an ancient Chinese legend about the fairy Chang'e who flies to the moon.
With funding of 1.4 billion yuan (US$169 million), the orbiter, based on China's Dongfanghong III satellite platform and other mature satellite technology, will be launched atop a Long March 3-A rocket, according to Luan.
The satellite would obtain three-dimensional images of the lunar surface, analyze the content of useful elements and materials, and probe the depth of the lunar soil and the space environment between the earth and the moon.
The lunar probe project will be divided into three phases: sending a satellite to orbit the moon by 2007, landing an unmanned vehicle on the moon by 2010 and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by 2020.
"Only after we finish the three phases can we carry out the manned satellite project to probe the moon", said Luan.
Source: China Daily