Regional rival Japan launched a similar probe last month and India has a mission planned for next year. 

The Chang'e will orbit the Earth while technical adjustments were made, and is expected to enter the moon's orbit by early November.

 

It will transmit images for chemical and mineral analysis of the lunar surface for a year.

The first pictures are expected to be sent back to earth by the end of November.

Lunar base

"The Chinese satellite will mainly be taking three dimensional pictures of the moon surface to see where it will be possible to land in the future to set up a lunar base," Rene Oosterlinck, a European Space Agency spokesman, said.

The Chang'e 1, named after a Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, will be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province in the country's southwest.
 

"The Chinese satellite will mainly be taking three dimensional pictures of the moon surface to see where it will be possible to land in the future to set up a lunar base"

Rene Oosterlinck, European Space Agency spokesman
In the third phase of the project, China plans to send a moon rover to land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research in 2017.

 
Although the timeframes for China and Japan to eventually put someone on the moon are roughly similar, some Chinese officials have been trying to play down the rivalry.
   
"Japan began its lunar exploration research much earlier than we did, so we have always stressed that with the launch of Chang'e, we don't want to be talking about who is first," Zhang Jianqi, a senior mission official, said.

 

However, China appears to be leading Asia's space race after it became the first country in the region to put its own astronaut into space in 2003.

 

More ominously, it also blasted an old satellite into oblivion with a land-based anti-satellite missile, the first such test ever conducted by any nation, including the US and Russia.

 

The test of the space weapon sparked fears that China could trigger an arms race in space.

 

Chinese scientists said the mission has "a very strong scientific emphasis" and was more than just launching or putting the first satellite in orbit.