BEIJING -- China plans to land Chang'e III on the moon at the soonest in 2013, Ye Peijian, chief designer of Chang'e I, the country's first moon probe, said here Monday.
The mission of Chang'e III is to make soft landing and probe the moon, said Ye, a member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body.
Before the mission, Chang'e II will be launched at the latest in 2011 to test key technologies of soft landing and lower technical risks, he said.
The timetable was revealed as China concluded the first phase of its three-stage moon mission with a controlled impact of Chang'e I on the moon Sunday.
Ye said China's three-stage moon mission could be defined as "orbiting", "landing" and "returning".
A Chang'e IV will also be launched during the second phase, which will be concluded before 2017, said Ye. But he didn't detail the task of the fourth probe.
Ye said the third phase will last from 2017 to 2020, during which China will launch recoverable moon rovers.
"Chang'e" is named after a legendary moon goddess. But Ye said the recoverable moon rovers may not continue to be named after the goddess. "The name hasn't been decided yet," he said.
China's space program claimed a new landmark with its first space walk last year. It is the third nation, after the US and Russia, to launch people into space.