China will have a recoverable moon rover, which will carry back lunar soil samples, by 2017 if technical research "progresses smoothly," said the chief designer of Chang'e-1, the country's first moon probe, Tuesday.
China plans to land a probe on the moon in 2013, said Ye Peijian, chief commander and designer of probe's satellite system, and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The milestone Chang'e-1 blasted off last October, marking the first step in China's ambitious three-stage moon mission.
"A recoverable moon rover is a must, though it is a much tougher task than a moon lander," said Ye, also a member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), on the sidelines of the annual full session of the top political advisory body.
So far all data the experts have obtained about the moon is collected and processed by remote devices. Having that data examined hands-on by scientists will be an improvement, Ye said.
"A recoverable moon rover is also vital for a manned moon landing," Ye said but added that China so far has no plan to land men on the moon.
Scientists have been working on a recoverable moon rover scheme, he said. "If the government approves it and we start technical preparation now, it will be finished in 2017."
Ye also admitted that technical challenges remain concerning the landing mission.
The soft landing vehicle and moon rover should meet high technical standards as they will have to stay on the moon for three months to a year, he said.
"A night on the moon is equal to 14 days on the earth, during which the solar batteries cannot be recharged. It remains a question how the equipment will be kept warm and working," he said.
The mission also needs a stable and powerful data transmission system as the information will be sent a distance of 380,000 km back to the earth, he said.
The government has approved the scheme to develop a non-recoverable landing moon rover and experts have started working on it, Ye said.
The country will launch another moon orbiter Chang'e-2 around 2009, which is expected to follow an orbit of 100 km above the moon's surface, 100 km lower the Chang'e-1, Ye said.
"We also hope to prolong the service of Change'-1 by three to six months," he said.