Beijing: China has begun the countdown for its third lunar mission later this year, during which it plans to land an orbiter on the moon`s surface.
The Chang`e-3 probe is scheduled to be sent into space at the end of this year for its lunar landing mission, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence announced today.
"Chang`e-3 has officially entered its launch implementation stage following its research and construction period," an official statement said.
The mission will see an orbiter "soft-land" - a technique of landing by slowing speed - on a celestial body for the first time.
Earlier, China had planned to land a rover on the moon in its third mission in 2013 and to retrieve it in 2017 after surveying the lunar surface.
China launched the Chang`e-1 orbiter in 2007 and Chang`e-2 in 2010.
The first probe retrieved a great deal of scientific data and a complete map of the moon, while the second created a full high-resolution map of the moon and a high-definition image of Sinus Iridium, a lunar landmark.
Chang’e-2 is still travelling in space and flew to a distance of about 50 million km from Earth, marking a new height in Beijing`s deep space exploration efforts.
The probe is still "in good condition", the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence said last month.
Chang`e-2 will be able to travel to a distance as far as 300 million km away from Earth, according to calculations done by scientists from the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre
On June 9, 2011, after finishing its lunar objectives, Chang`e-2 left its lunar orbit for an extended mission to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point.