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China prepares for lift-off with mission to land on the Moon


China has released plans for a five-year space programme, including building a space station and manned missions.

Its ambitions reflect those of the US more than 40 decades ago, and have similar goals. Just as the US space programme came at a time of major economic expansion, so China's drive comes as it grows in economic power and global influence.

Details of the programme include building space labs and manned spaceships, launching high-tech satellites and space freighters as well as deep-space exploration.

"China will work together with the international community to maintain a peaceful and clean outer space and endeavour to make new contributions to the lofty cause of promoting world peace and development," a government white paper called China's Space Activities in 2011, says.

The US has barred China's participation in the 16-country International Space Programme because it is concerned about military espionage.

China is now looking to other partners to help meet its ultimate goal – putting a Chinese taikonaut, or astronaut, on the moon.

It is thought Beijing is keeping in close contact with their Russian counterparts on the Yinghuo-1 Mars orbiter.

Satellites play a big part in China's space plans. It will build a space infrastructure composed of Earth observation satellites, communications and broadcasting satellites, as well as navigation and positioning satellites.

It plans to complete 100 launch missions and send 100 satellites into space over the next five years.

Beijing is keen to ease fears that China is planning to expand its presence in space for military reasons. The white paper specifically states that it opposes any kind of arms race in space.

"The Chinese government has made the space industry an important part of the nation's overall development strategy and adhered to the exploration and utilisation of outer space for peaceful purposes," the paper says.

In the next five years, the country plans to launch spacecraft that will make a soft landing on the moon.

They will then rove and survey to implement stage two of lunar exploration, before beginning the third-stage project of gathering samples of the moon's surface matter and getting those samples back to Earth.

China in space

1958: The Jiuquan centre, dubbed East Wind Space City, is built in a remote region of north-western China and becomes the hub of the manned space programme.

1970: China's first satellite lifts off and orbits Earth blaring the Cultural Revolution anthem, "The East is Red".

2003: China puts its first man in space, making the astronaut Yang Liwei a national hero.

2007: The first Chinese moon orbiter is launched, the Chang'e One, which took images of the lunar surface. Two missions are planned for 2013 and 2017.

2008: The astronaut Zhai Zhigang carries out China's first spacewalk.

Poppy Mcpherson