China's plans to launch its first lunar orbiter, named "Chang'e 1" - after a female character from Chinese mythology who lived on the moon - in 2007 are on schedule.
The moon orbiting project, the first step in China's overall lunar exploration program that began in 2004, is proceeding smoothly, according to Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the moon probe program and an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The orbiter will provide 3D images of the moon's surface, probe into the distribution of 14 usable elements on the moon, study lunar microwaves and estimate the thickness of the moon's soil on the whole moon. The craft will also monitor the space environment between the moon and the earth, said Ouyang.
China's moon exploration program will be carried out in three stages. The orbiting project will be followed by a remote-controlled lunar rover that will perform experiments and send data back to Earth. In the third phase, a module will drill out a chunk of the moon and bring it to Earth.
All three will be completed by 2017, when China will begin to consider a manned lunar probe mission.
(Xinhua News Agency June 20, 2006)