Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.
China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years – an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and solar system.
The Long March-5, China’s largest carrier rocket, blasted off at 4:30am Beijing time (20:30 GMT on Monday) in a launch from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern Chinese island of Hainan carrying the Chang’e-5 spacecraft.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) called the launch a success and said in a statement the rocket flew for nearly 37 minutes before sending the spacecraft on its intended trajectory.
The Chang’e-5 mission, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect lunar material to help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation. The mission will test China’s ability to remotely acquire samples from space, ahead of more complex missions.
If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, joining the United States and the Soviet Union.