China will next year attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time, state media reported, in the latest project in the country's ambitious space programme, AFP reports.
China's third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013, the state Xinhua news agency reported late Monday. Other reports said it would land and transmit back a survey of the moon's surface.
If successful, the landing would be China's first on the lunar surface and mark a new milestone in its space development. It is part of a project to orbit, land on and return from the moon, Xinhua said.
China said in its last white paper on space it was working towards landing a man on the moon, although it has not given a time frame.
Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
It kicked off in 1999 with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou-1.
Two years later, Shenzhou-2 lifted off carrying small animals, and in 2003, China sent its first man into space. Since then, it has completed a space walk in 2008 and an unmanned docking between a module and rocket last year.
Most recently, a 13-day voyage of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft became China's longest-ever space mission and was notable for including the nation's first woman astronaut among its three-member crew.
The crew also achieved China's first manual docking with an orbital module, the Tiangong-1, a highly complex manoeuvre first conducted by the Americans in the 1960s and essential to building a permanent manned space station.
Next year's planned lunar probe launch will follow the Chang'e 1 in 2007 and Chang'e 2 in 2010, both named for the Chinese goddess of the moon.
Xinhua quoted the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence as saying the project was proceeding smoothly.