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China to Launch Moon Probe This Year

China's state media say Beijing plans to launch a lunar orbiter later this year.

The Xinhua news agency quotes China's space agency chief, Sun Laiyan, as saying the launch is the first step towards a lunar probe. Sun said the lunar exploration program has been divided into three steps: orbiting the moon, landing on the lunar surface and coming back to Earth with moon samples.

Xinhua says a moon rover mission is scheduled for around 2012.

Sun, who spoke at Beijing Jiaotong University, says China will also continue research on manned space missions, including a space walk and experiments tp link passing spacecraft.

In 2003, China became the third country - after the former Soviet Union and the United States - to launch a man into space.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.