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China outlines its plans for its next two unmanned lunar probes, with the second targeted as a 2017 sample return mission.
The new mission planned for 2017 would mark the third and final phase of China’s robotic lunar exploration program and pave the way for possibly landing an astronaut on the moon after 2020.
As I mentioned last night, the soft landing on Saturday demonstrated they are developing the technology to land a manned vehicle safely on the Moon. To return samples safely would demonstrate they are developing the technology to return that manned vehicle safely as well.
Update: Yutu did not land anywhere near its planned landing location.
China had originally publicized a location in the Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) — a level area thoroughly surveyed by a previous Chinese mission — as the landing spot. Local media even stated that Chang’e 3 landed there. But Chinese scientists have since confirmed that the spacecraft landed slightly to the east, in the northern part of Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).
It is unclear whether this was a late change or the result of a technical problem.