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China plans to send orbiter to moon and back later this year

BEIJING -- China will launch its first recoverable moon orbiter later this year, the government announced Sunday, in the latest step in its ambitious space program.

The mission will be launched before the end of the year and will travel to the moon before returning to earth, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said in a statement on Sunday.

Doing so will require withstanding the high temperatures that develop when a probe re-enters the Earth's atmosphere.

The orbiter will test technology that will be be used for China's ambitious Chang'e-5 mission, which aims to gather samples from the moon's surface, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Beijing sees its multibillion-dollar space program as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as evidence of the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The moon orbiter has been transported to the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, SASTIND said.

In Chinese mythology, Chang'e is the goddess of the moon who lives in a palace with her pet Yutu, or jade rabbit. The country's moon rover, launched as part of the Chang'e-3 lunar mission late last year, was named after the pet.

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