Spaceofficials in China are eying April of next year for the launch of their firstlunar orbiter--Chang'e-I.
Theprobe has been under development since early 2006 and makes use of China's Dongfanghong III satellite platform and other technology. The lunar orbiter will betested at the space launch center in December. If checkout goes well, thespacecraft is to be launched in April atop a Long March 3A booster.
Accordingto the Wuhan-based Changjiang Daily, quoting Luan Enjie, director of theChina National Space Administration, funding for Chang'e-I is 1.4 billion yuan- equal to $169 million in U.S. dollars.
Oneof Chang'e-I's tasks is to obtain three-dimensional images of the lunarsurface. The moon orbiter, Luan said, is part of a three-step lunar programduring a lecture at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province.
Followingthe Chang'e-I orbiter mission, Luan said, is landing an unmanned vehicle on themoon by 2010 and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by2020.
"Onlyafter we finish the three phases can we carry out the manned satellite projectto probe the moon", Luan stated.