TECH

China Is Going Back To The Moon Later This Year

11/08/2014 11:14 BST | Updated 11/08/2014 11:59 BST

Perhaps inspired by last night's box-office Supermoon -- or maybe by its own long-term ambitions in space -- China has announced a 'surprise' mission to the Moon.

The most recent visitor to the Lunar surface said it will send a craft to orbit the Moon later in 2014 and recover it safely.

If successful, the unmanned craft will be the first orbiter China will have sent to the Moon and brought back to Earth.

china moon launch

Above: China previously declared its prior Chang'e 3 mission a "complete success"

The announcement is widely seen as China's latest step towards landing manned missions on the Lunar surface sometime in the next 30 years. But it is more directly aimed at testing systems for its Chang'e-5 mission, which aims to go to the Moon and recover rocks with robots.

Long-term China has designs on mining the Moon for hydrogen fuel -- though that is a long way off.

Manned, permanent Moon orbiters and bases are also a possible long term objective.

The State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said that the mission will test several crucial new technologies, including how to withstand the high temperatures experienced on reentry.

China was able to successfully land the Yutu ('Jade Rabbit') probe on the Moon in late 2013.

While that robot was only able to last at full capacity for a relatively short time, China declared the Chang'e-3 lunar mission as a whole a "complete success".