BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- China plans to launch its third unmanned probe to the moon, Chang'e-3, around 2013 and expects to complete the three-phase moon mission in 2017, an official said here Wednesday.
The remarks by Ye Peijian, chief designer of Chang'e-1, the country's first moon probe, and chief commander of Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3, followed presentations by two space exploration experts last week.
The Chang'e-3 mission will include an unmanned soft landing on the moon and the release of a moon rover to prospect the surface and interior of the moon, Ye told Xinhua on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, China's top political advisory body.
Ye, also a member of the CPPCC National Committee, said the Chang'e-3 mission has made "good progress" in its prototype development stage and he believed the mission would be carried out as scheduled after overcoming a variety of difficulties.
Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 are part of the second phase of the country's lunar exploration program. The Chang'e-2 is designed to test key soft landing technologies for the Chang'e-3 and provide high-resolution photo images of the landing area.
According to China's three-phase moon exploration road map, the country will first launch the Chang'e-2 lunar orbiter, the country's second lunar probe, in October this year and the missions in the following two phases will be to conduct a landing in 2013 with Chang'e-3 and a sample return in 2017.
China has been eager to leave its foot print on the moon as ambitious programs have been drawn up to explore the outer space.
The country is also finalizing its preparations for the launch of an unmanned space module, Tiangong-1, in 2011, which is expected to carry out the country's first space docking and is regarded as an essential step in building a space station.
China successfully launched the Chang'e-1 lunar probe in October 2007 as the country's first step towards a moon mission and carried out an impact on the lunar surface to complete its 16-month mission in March of last year.
"Chang'e" is named after a legendary Chinese moon goddess.