China's space program has set its sights on an ambitious feat of lunar exploration: robotically landing a probe on the moon and returning samples of the lunar surface back to Earth.
To accomplish that, the country plans to launch a lunar "test orbiter" by year's end with the intention of laying the foundation for China's Chang'e 5 lunar sample-return mission in 2017.
The experimental recoverable moon orbiter has arrived at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southern province of Sichuan for its planned launch. The mission represents China's first attempt at returning a lunar probe to Earth, as noted in an Aug. 10 statement by China's State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).
China is preparing for the launch of an experimental recoverable moon orbiter, said the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence on Sunday.
The orbiter arrived in Xichang via air in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Sunday and then transported to the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, according to a statement from the administration.
The launch will take place before the end of this year, it said.
The plan is for the orbiter to be launched into lunar orbit and return to Earth at an escape velocity of 11.2 km per second.
The orbiter is one of the test models for China's new lunar probe Chang'e-5, which will be tasked with landing on the moon, collecting samples and returning to Earth.
The launch is aimed at testing the technologies that are vital for the success of Chang'e-5, the statement said.
China launched the Chang'e-3 lunar probe with its moon rover, Yutu, in late 2013. Chang'e-3 successfully landed on the moon and Yutu operated well until its control mechanism failed in January.
As the backup probe of Chang'e-3, Chang'e-4 will be adapted to verify technologies for Chang'e-5.
The more sophisticated Chang'e-5 mission, including unmanned sampling and returning, requires technological breakthroughs in moon surface takeoff, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, as well as high-speed Earth reentry.