China to launch Chang'e-5 space vehicle with moon rover on board in 2017
China will launch to the Moon a return vehicle Chang'e-5 with a moon rover on board in 2017, according to U Zhiqiang, representative of the Office of Science, Technology and Industry at the Ministry of Defense.
He said that by 2017 “the program will enter the phase when an unmanned vehicle should collect Moon surface samples and bring them to Earth”. This task would be fulfilled within the framework of launching Chang'e-5 and Chang'e-6 space vehicles.
“This phase will be more complex since we’ll have to apply new technologies in collecting the moon rocks, take-off from Earth’s satellite, returning to Moon’s orbit and entering Earth’s atmosphere on a high speed,” U Zhiqiang explained.
This is why the main task of Chang'e-4 vehicle will be the checkout technologies that will be later used in the flight of Chang'e-5, according to U Zhiqiang.
China’s Moon exploration program is divided into three phases. During the first one, in 2007, Chang'e-1 space vehicle was successfully launched. The spacecraft had been working on Moon’s orbit for 16 months. As a result, a 3D high resolution Moon surface map was constructed. In 2010, Chang'e-2 research vehicle was launched to the Moon to photograph several areas, one of which was supposed as the landing point of the research vehicle. The launch of Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-4 falls into the second phase of the Chinese program for the exploration of Earth’s natural satellite. It comprises the vehicles’ ascent to Moon’s orbit and landing on its surface. Within the third phase, Chang'e-5 and Chang'e-6 will be launched to the Moon. Their main task will be to deliver Moon rock samples to Earth. China plans to send astronauts to the Moon after 2020.