BEIJING, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- China is planning to launch its first moon orbiter at around 6 p.m. on October 24 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province.
"The satellite will be launched between October 24 and 26 and our first choice is around 6 p.m. on October 24," a spokesman for the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.
The circumlunar satellite, which has been named Chang'e I after the legendary Chinese goddess who, according to legend, flew to the moon, and the carrier Long March 3A have passed all pre-launch tests and have been transported to the launch site.
The lunar probe is expected to enter earth-moon transfer orbit on October 31 and arrive in the moon's orbit on November 5.
The satellite will relay the first picture of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific explorations of the moon for a year.
The orbiter will carry out a series of projects including acquiring 3-D images and analyzing the distribution of elements on the moon's surface, according to the spokesman.
"Experts from foreign space administrations have been invited to watch the launch on site," said the spokesman.
"China welcomes international cooperation in space activities," he said.
China hopes to become the 17th nation to join the International Space Station (ISS) project, Vice Minister of Science and Technology Li Xueyong said on the sidelines of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last week.
The Chinese government has been pursuing a policy of peaceful use of airspace, Li said.
The satellite launch will mark the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.
China carried out its maiden piloted space flight in October 2003, making it only the third country in the world after the Soviet Union and the United States to have sent men into space. In October 2005, China completed its second manned space flight, with two astronauts on board.