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New lunar mission to test Chang'e-5 technology

China will launch a new lunar mission this week to test technology likely to be used in Chang'e-5, a future lunar probe with the ability to return to Earth.

The experimental spacecraft launched this week is expected to reach a location near the moon and return to Earth, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense on Wednesday.

The test model is currently ready and scheduled to be launched between Friday and Sunday from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, with the whole mission taking about eight days.

"The meteorological condition will meet the requirements for the launch," said Tao Zhongshan, chief engineer of the center.

It is the first time China has conducted a test involving a half-orbit around the moon at a height of 380,000 kilometers before having the craft return to Earth.

The return mission will involve the spacecraft entering, exiting, and re-entering Earth's atmosphere and landing, said the administration.

During this process, the spacecraft's speed will be slowed down so it can land safely at a determined location, a key capability needed for Chang'e-5, which is expected to return from the moon at a velocity of 11.2 kilometers per second, according to the scientists' explanation.

China's advanced Long March-3C carrier rocket will make its debut during the test.

The Chang'e-5 probe, expected to launch in 2017, will be tasked with landing on the moon, collecting samples and returning to Earth.

"Apart from the technology of self-returning to Earth, the probe will make breakthrough in sample collecting, moon surface takeoff, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit," said Hu Hao, chief designer of the third phase of China's lunar probe project.

China carried out Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

In December, 2013, Chang'e-3 lunar probe succeeded in soft landing on the moon, with the country's first moon rover on board. The Chang'e-3 mission marked completion of the second phase of China's lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth.

[Source: Xinhua, Beijing, 22Oct14]

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