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China plans to launch fifth lunar probe in 2017

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BEIJING (PTI): Inspired by the success of its first moon rover, China has said it plans to launch its fifth lunar probe in 2017 to bring back soil and rock samples from the moon's surface.

"The development of Chang'e-5 is proceeding smoothly," said the spokesman of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence Wu Zhijian at a press conference on Monday.

The just-concluded Chang'e-3 mission marked completion of the second phase of the country's lunar programme, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth.

The lunar programme will enter the next stage of unmanned sampling and returning, which will include Chang'e-5 and 6 missions, according to Wu.

"The programme's third phase will be more difficult because many breakthroughs must be made in key technologies such as moon surface takeoff, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, and high-speed Earth re-entry, which are all new to China," Wu was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.

As the backup probe of Chang'e-3, Chang'e-4 will be adapted to verify technologies for Chang'e-5, according to Wu.

China's Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions were in 2007 and 2010.

Launched on October 1, 2010, Chang'e-2 is about 65 million km from Earth and is China's first man-made asteroid.

It is heading for deep space. "The completion of the third phase will not mean an end of China's lunar probe programme," Wu said.

"It should be a new starting point." Wu, however, said follow-up plans for lunar exploration after the third phase is completed are still being studied.

As for deep space exploration, Wu said, "Experts have reached some consensuses and scientists are studying and drawing up integrated plans."

Chang'e-3 lunar probe succeeded in soft landing on the moon on Saturday. The country's first moon rover, which was on board the probe, separated from the Lander early on Monday.

The two photographed each other on the moon's surface last night.

"Despite current progress, China still lags behind space giants like the United States and Russia in many aspects," he said. "We need to work harder and move faster."

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China  Lunar probe  Moon  
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