China's second moon probe will launch this year and will fly faster and reach lunar orbit sooner than its predecessor, Chang'e-1, according to the country's state-run media.
The new probe, Chang'e-2, is set to launch in late 2010, China's Xinhua news agency reported. It is the second step in China's three-phase Chang'e moon exploration program, named after China's mythical Moon Goddess. Chang'e-3 is slated to land on the moon in 2013.
"It is estimated Chang'e-2 can reach lunar orbit within five days, compared to 13 days, 14 hours and 19 minutes for Chang'e-1," Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist at the China Lunar Exploration Project, told Xinhua.
Chang'e-1 launched in October 2007 and ended a 16-month moon observation mission in March 2009 when it crash landed on the lunar surface.
"China has not been to moon before the country launched Chang'e-1, so we were very prudent at that time and adjusted its orbit in a very slow manner. It flew a journey of 2.06 million km before reaching lunar orbit," Ouyang said. "But it's different now. We are more sure about the launch."
This second probe will also orbit the moon 60 miles (100 km) closer and carry a higher resolution camera, he told Xinhua.
Around 2017, China is planning to return a moon rock sample to Earth.
China's moon program is just one prong of the nation's burgeoning space program, which has so far seen three successful manned spaceflights, including the nation's first spacewalk on the most recent mission, the Shenzhou 7 flight of 2008.
China is also planning to build a manned space station. The first module, Tiangong 1, is currently slated to be launched unmanned in early 2011. At least two more modules are also under construction, and the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.
After Russia and the United States, China is the third country to independently launch humans to space. The nation's first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, launched in 2003.
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