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Moon orbiter nears expected launch
21/5/2007 10:14

China was "losing no time" in preparing its first lunar orbiter, Chang'e I, which will most likely be launched in the second half of this year, a space official said yesterday.

"The moon probe project is the third milestone in China's space technology after satellite and manned spacecraft projects, and a first step for us in exploring deep space," said Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration.

Sun, also vice director of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense, made the remarks when briefing students at Beijing Jiaotong University on China's space program.

Plans for a lunar orbiter launch in 2007 were included in China's white paper on its space program, unveiled last year.

In 2003, China became only the third country - after the United States and the former Soviet Union - to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit and planned a space walk by next year.

China's moon exploration program is divided into three phases - "circling the moon," "landing on the moon" and "back to earth," said Sun.

The launch of the orbiter is the first phase of China's moon exploration program, and the second phase will involve the launching of a moon rover, he said.

Earlier reports said the moon rover will be launched around 2012.

In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples, Sun said.

"Space technology reflects a nation's overall power and is an important facet of the modernization of national defense," he said.

Sun said China is able to research, produce and shoot ground-to-ground, air defense and coastal defense missiles, and its strategic nuclear deterrent is a key component of China's national defense.

"As late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping pointed out, if China had no atomic bombs or hydrogen bombs and had not launched its first satellite since the 1960s, China could not be called an influential country and would not enjoy the same international status,'' he said.

Modern war relies heavily on information and high-tech, supported by space technologies, Sun said.

 Xinhua news