CHINA will launch its first lunar orbiter at 6:05pm tomorrow from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province, officials confirmed at a news conference this morning.
The launch was previously expected to take place sometime before Friday, a spokesman for the China National Space Administration said yesterday.
As the Long March 3A and satellite Chang'e I have both passed all pre-launch tests, scientists started adding fuel early this morning, the last step before the orbiter's ground-breaking take-off.
Fuel was added around 6am today to the Long March 3A, the carrier of the satellite Chang'e I, which has been named after the Chinese goddess who, according to legend, flew to the moon, the Beijing Times reported today.
The fuel adding phase, which begins 36 hours before takeoff, will run untill four minutes before the launch.
Low-temperature liquid oxygen was infused into the carrier starting at 10am today while adding of liquid hydrogen kicked off around 11:30am.
Workers blow inert gases on the intersections between the fuel pipes and the rocket in case these sessions freeze during the fuel process.
After the fuel infusing is complete, the overall weight of the carrier and the satellite will top 260 tons, including more than 40 tons of fuel.
The last batch of personnel at the site will retreat to two nearby shelters 15 minutes before the ignition of the orbiter, with one in a cave 60 meters away from the launch pad and the other in an underground observation room 200 meters away.
The orbiter is expected to head southeast eight to 11 seconds after the launch while the satellite and its carrier will break apart in 1,400 seconds, a moment that scientists can determine the success of the launch, the report said.
The lunar probe is expected to enter Earth-moon transfer orbit on October 31 and arrive in the moon's orbit on November 7.
The satellite will relay the first picture of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific lunar explorations 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 previous reports.
The satellite launch will mark the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which is expected to lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover in about 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 in about 2017.
China carried out its maiden manned space flight in October 2003, making it only the third country in the world after the former 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.