China's lunar probe Chang'e-5 will be delivered to the Wenchang launch site in August in preparation for its launch by a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket in late November.
Ye Peijian, a senior official involved in lunar exploration and attached to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), confirmed the move to China Central Television ahead of the country's annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing.
The complex mission will involve a number of stages and components, involving lunar soft-landing, collecting samples, ascent from the Moon, a docking in lunar orbit, heading home and reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
The plan will be for operations on the Moon to take place within a lunar day, and the mission completed before the end of 2017, with a reentry capsule carrying up to 2kg of lunar regolith to a landing spot in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia.
The mission marks the final stage of the country's three-step lunar exploration project that has seen two orbiters and a lander and a rover explore the Moon. But new plans are already underway.
Future lunar missions include the Chang'e-4 probe which will attempt the first ever landing on the lunar far side in late 2018, utilising the backup lander and rover from the Chang'e-3 mission.
China will then target the north and south poles of the moon, Ye says, to undertake surface exploration, resource development and related technology validation.
The lunar poles are of tremendous scientific interest and could offer new insights into the origins and evolution of the Earth-Moon system and the solar system itself, and could also be extremely useful in terms of resources and for future human outposts.
Chinese lunar exploration to enter new phase with missions to Moon's poles and far side
But the country's ambitions won't stop there, according to Ye Peijian, a chief commander of the China Lunar Exploration Project (CLEP).
Ye told media on Wednesday that the pioneering Chang'e-4mission to the lunar far side in late 2018 - utilising the backup lander and rover from the Chang'e-3 mission - will kick off a brand new fourth phase of exploration.
The mission involves first sending a relay orbiter to a Lagrange point beyond the Moon in summer 2018 to facilitate communications with the lander and rover on the lunar far side, which due to tidal locking never faces Earth.
Above: A view of the far side of the Moon and the distant Earth, captured by the service module for the 2014 Chang’e 5-T1 mission (Chinese Academy of Sciences).
Later missions will then target the north and south poles of the moon, Ye says, to undertake surface exploration, resource development and related technology validation.
The lunar poles are of tremendous scientific interest and could offer new insights into the origins and evolution of the Earth-Moon system and the solar system itself, according to a 2012 paper by Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary science and astrobiology, and others.
The lunar poles also potentially contain areas of water ice, preserved in permanently shadowed craters, and other places almost permanently bathed in sunlight, both of which could be extremely useful in terms of resources and for future human outposts.
The missions are likely to take place in the early to mid-2020s.
More immediately the Chang'e-5 probe will be shipped to the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan island in August in preparation for launch on a Long March 5 rocket in late November.
Above: The Chang'e-5 reentry capsule (Framegrab/CCTV).
The mission will feature China's first automated moon surface sampling, and the first such mission by any country for over 40 years.
The complex mission involves landing on the Moon, collecting samples, take-off, and an unmanned docking in a lunar orbit about 380,000 km from Earth, and returning home at a speed close to second cosmic velocity, testing reentry technology.
Should Chang'e-4 and Chang'e-5 be successful, the backup sample return probe Chang'e-6 is expected, though not officially approved, to attempt a sample return from the far side, possibly around the lunar polar regions.
Jupiter and asteroid plans
"China is also preparing for the exploration of asteroids and Jupiter, as part of its plans for deep-space exploration," Ye Peijian told Xinhua (Chinese).
Such plans were noted in the Chinese government's space policy 'white paper' released in December.
Ji Jianghui, a researcher at Purple Mountain Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in February outlined a proposal for asteroid sampling.
The mission would see China launch a probe in 2022 to first fly alongside and orbit near-Earth asteroid Apophis, then flyby asteroid 2002 EX11, and finally rendezvous with and land on asteroid 1996 FG3.
China discloses Chang'e 5 lunar probe landing site
China's Chang'e 5 lunar probe is expected to land in the Mons Rumker region, and to take moon samples back to earth at the end of the year, according to a Chinese space official.
Liu Jizhong, director of China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China National Space Administration (CNSA), for the first time disclosed the probe landing site, an isolated volcanic formation located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side.
Liu also mentioned China's Chang'e 4 lunar probe. Delivering a report at the Global Space Exploration Conference, which opened in Beijing Tuesday, he said China's Chang'e 4 lunar probe, which is expected to be the first human carrying probe landing on the far side of the moon, would be launched in 2018, carrying 11 scientific payloads, including four developed by other countries.
He said lunar exploration had many international cooperation opportunities and that constructing the international moon village or international research station, proposed by European Space Agency (ESA), was also a long-term goal for China.
"China is planning and designing its future lunar exploration program. We will focus on the south pole region of the moon. The research on water and the permanent shadow area of the lunar south pole region will bring greater scientific discoveries," Liu said.
He said that China would push forward international cooperation in exploring the south pole of the moon, constructing lunar scientific research station and establishing long-term energy supply and autonomous infrastructures.
Liu proposed jointly exploring the lunar polar region and constructing the scientific research station as a guide for the international moon village or station, following international law.
He also proposed creating an open platform for cooperation in accordance with the principle of "sharing the risks and achievements," and to set up the International Union of Planetary Scientists and the International Union of Planetary Science College Students.
He said scientists from different countries might jointly formulate scientific objectives, develop scientific payloads and carry out scientific data research.
"Partners may develop probes and facilities independently, which will complement each other. Enterprises are also encouraged to actively participate in lunar exploration," Liu said. "Intergovernmental cooperation should be strengthened, and governments should co-ordinate existing deep space exploration infrastructures to share the resources and enhance investment efficiency."
At the conference, Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of CNSA, honored the international partners of China's Chang'e 4 mission, which will carry payloads from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
Since China proposed international cooperation on the Chang'e 4 mission last year, China has received more than 20 schemes from other countries.
"We support more international cooperation in China's future lunar and Mars missions, as well as exploration to the Jupiter system and asteroids that are still under discussion," Wu said.
"It is exactly what I was looking forward to," said Jan Woerner, director general of the ESA. "It will fit perfectly to the moon village, ESA's vision for international cooperation on the moon."
Yuanwang-3 completes ship check mission, ready for Chang'e-5 lunar probe launch
Chinese space-monitoring ship Yuanwang-3 has completed a 27-day maritime calibration mission and returned to port in east China's Jiangsu Province Thursday.
The ship will take part in six maritime space monitoring missions as a part of the space expeditions scheduled for the second half of the year, which will include the launch of the Chang'e-5 lunar probe and BeiDou-3 satellite.
Yuanwang-3 has embarked on more than 40 expeditions in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, sailing more than 580,000 nautical miles.
Apart from the missions assigned to Yuanwang-3, Yuanwang series vessels will carry out a total of 16 maritime space monitoring missions in the latter half of this year.
The Yuanwang-1 and Yuanwang-2 ships were China's first-generation space tracking vessels, which first entered service in late 1970s, making China the fourth country to master space tracking technology after the United States, Russia and France.