According to Ouyang Ziyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of China's chief lunar exploration scientists, China's first orbiter spacecraft is expected to take off within three years.

The plan is for a probe to land and return from the moon with lunar soil and rock samples by 2010.

"We are following the prescribed order of developing the necessary systems for lunar exploration, such as those for orbiter control and monitoring, data processing as well as the carrier rocket and explorer satellite," said Ouyang Ziyuan. He continued that Chinese technicians and experts are working on developing China's first lunar exploration craft, which, weighing around two tons, is projected to orbit the moon for at least 12 months. Named "Chang'e-I", the lunar orbiter will circle the moon, which is on average around 384,400 kilometers away from the Earth, taking up to nine days to reach its preset orbit .

In addition to obtaining 3-D images of the lunar surface, this part of the mission will also deal with analyzing the content and distribution of useful elements on the moon's surface, measure the density of lunar soil and explore the lunar environment, according to Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration. Luan said earlier he anticipated the orbiting phase to be completed by 2007 and the country will send a probe which will land and return from the moon with lunar soil and rock samples by 2010.

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