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China to launch 1st return probe mission to Moon this year

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BEIJING (PTI): China will launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe later this year, its first return mission, as part of the Communist giant's ambitious efforts to conduct a record number of 30 space launch missions.

The probe will be launched in November from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in Hainan Province, aboard the heavy-lift carrier rocket Long March-5.

The mission will be China's first automated moon surface sampling, first moon take-off, first unmanned docking in a lunar orbit about 3.80 lakh km from earth, and first return flight in a speed close to second cosmic velocity, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said.

"With a weight of 8.2 tonnes, the lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander," Ye Peijian, one of China's leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the programme said.

The lander will put moon samples in a vessel in the ascender after the moon landing.

Then the ascender will take off from the moon to dock with the orbiter and the returner orbiting the moon, and transfer the samples to the returner.

The orbiter and returner then head back to the earth, separating from each other when they are several thousands kms from earth.

Finally, the returner will re-enter the earth, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The development of Chang'e-5 has entered the end of its flight model phase and relevant work is proceeding smoothly, CASC said.

China plans to fulfill three strategic steps with the launch of Chang'e-5, "orbiting, landing and returning."

It also plans to launch the Chang'e-4 lunar probe around 2018 to achieve mankind's first soft landing on the far side of the moon, and to conduct an in situ and roving detection and relay communications at earth-moon L2 point, according to the China National Space Administration.

"The country plans to send robots to explore both lunar poles," said the administration's vice director Wu Yanhua late last year, adding that plans to send astronauts to the moon were also being discussed.

CASC earlier announced that China plans to conduct a "record" number of 30 space launch missions this year as part of its efforts to expand its ambitious space programme. The record-breaking number space launches will be launched by Long March-5 and Long March-7 rockets, it said.

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