A one-year lunar fly-by mission may start in April 2007 in China, but a manned flight to the Earth's neighbour may be a long way away, a chief lunar exploration scientist said last night.
"Sending a man to the Moon? It would be a one-way ticket if we do it now, given the thrust of our rockets at present is not strong enough," Luan Enjie, commander-in-chief of the country's lunar exploration programme, said jokingly.
But the country is planning to develop even more powerful rockets in the future, he added.
Luan was talking to the press at the end of a conference for leaders of the programme yesterday in Beijing.
He announced yesterday that the lunar exploration project had developed from an initial design stage to the production of a satellite and its carrier rocket.
The country welcomes International co-operation in lunar exploration, he said.
With project funds of only 1.4 billion yuan (US$173 million), just enough to build 14-kilometre top-grade highway in some regions, scientists have tried to utilize the country's tested space technology for the programme, he said.
Much of the funding has been reserved for developing the necessary key technology for the project, he said.
For example, the spacecraft that will orbit the Moon, will be based on China's Dongfanghong III satellite platform and its launcher, Long March 3-A rocket, both are tried and tested products, he said.
Construction of the spacecraft and infrastructure for the launch, tracking and control systems will be ready by the end of next year, he said.
The satellite will lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Southwest China's Sichuan Province in April 2007.
The scheduled mission is China's first step towards venturing further into space.
Ouyang Ziyuan, the chief scientist of the project, said that Chinese experts and engineers have worked hard to resolve a chain of technological bottlenecks, especially with regards to the tracking of the spacecraft as it orbits the Moon.
The country formally announced the development schedule for lunar exploration in February 2004.
The fly-by mission will obtain three-dimensional images of the Moon's surface and analyze the content and distribution of useful elements on the Moon's surface.
This mission will be followed by the landing of an unmanned vehicle on the Moon in the second stage by 2010, and collecting samples of lunar soil with an unmanned vehicle by 2020, according to earlier reports.
The programme is dubbed "Chang'e Project," and the first lunar orbiting spacecraft has been named "Chang'e-I," referring to an ancient Chinese legend about a fairy called Chang'e who flies to the Moon.
Source: Xinhua News Agency
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