The unmanned Chang’e-3 (named for the Chinese moon goddess) will be China’s first attempt to land on the surface of the moon. It will include a lander and a rover with about 200 pounds of payload and instruments.
The state Xinhua news agency says Chang’e-3 will launch in the second half of 2013, make a soft landing on the surface, and explore the terrain, sending data and photos back to Earth.
The launch will be part of China’s Lunar Exploration Program. The country is two-for-two so far. Two lunar orbiters, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 were launched in 2007 and 2010 and successfully completed their missions. The first intentionally impacted the moon’s surface after its orbital mission. Chang’e-2 left lunar orbit after its mission and is now headed for asteroid 4179 Toutatis. It is expected to make a flyby in January 2013, making China the first country to explore the asteroid.