BEIJING, March 1 (Xinhua) -- A model prototype of China's first Mars probe is under development as the country plans to launch the probe around the summer of 2020, a leading Chinese aerospace expert told Xinhua on Wednesday.
"The probe will be launched at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan Province," said Ye Peijian, a consultant to the program undertaken by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
"China is also preparing for the exploration of asteroids and Jupiter, as part of its plans for deep-space exploration," said Ye, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
"The exploration of asteroids will be conducted after China finishes its first Mars exploration," Ye said.
He said that a second Mars exploration, hopefully around 2030, was expected to bring back samples. And research on the planet's structure, composition and environment would be conducted.
As to the importance of exploring asteroids, Ye said, "By collecting material from asteroids and analyzing their structure and composition, we can explore the formation of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth."
According to Ye, China plans to launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe around the end of November this year.
The mission will feature China's first automated moon surface sampling, first moon take-off, first unmanned docking in a lunar orbit about 380,000 km from Earth, and first return flight in a speed close to second cosmic velocity.
"Whether Chang'e-5 can make a successful return with samples of lunar soil will be a big highlight and primary challenge in the mission," Ye said. "If successful, China will have its own lunar surface samples, which will help us know more about the moon, including its state, temperature and material."
China plans to fulfill three strategic steps with the launch of Chang'e-5 -- orbiting, landing and returning.
The country also plans to launch the Chang'e-4 lunar probe around 2018 to achieve mankind's first soft landing on the far side of the moon.