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China attempting flight to the Moon and back

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Oct 26, 2014, 1:20 UTC

Sen—China this week is testing an experimental spacecraft that will fly around the Moon and return to Earth, a practice run for a planned lunar sample return mission in 2017.

The mission, slated to last about eight days, began on Friday with launch of the spacecraft aboard a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

The goal of the mission is to collect data and test technologies to prepare for a Moon landing by a spacecraft known as Chang’e-5, which is being designed to collect samples from the surface of the Moon and return them to Earth, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news service.

The lunar sample return mission is targeted for 2017, Xinhua said.

So far, only Russia and the United States have flown spacecraft to the Moon and back.

The prototype spacecraft, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., will test guidance, navigation and control systems and a heat shield needed to protect the vehicle during its high-speed re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

China’s first mission to the Moon was Chang'e-1, launched in 2007. A follow-up spacecraft, Chang'e-2, flew in 2010.

Last year, China launched Chang'e-3, which included a small rover named Yutu. The rover successful touched down on the Moon in December 2013.