China plans to send a drilling machine on board its fifth lunar probe, Chang'e-5, in 2017 to drill the moon surface deep and bring back rock samples to the earth, a top Chinese space scientist said today.

Chang'e-5 will carry a lunar landing probe, lunar surface patrol device and other equipment, said Ye Peijian, chief designer of Chang'e-1, the country's first moon probe, and chief commander of the Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 missions.

“Chang'e-5 will also carry a drilling machine to get moon rock from a depth of two meters underground,” he told official media here. China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, named after the country's mythical Moon Goddess, on Oct 24, 2007.

The probe ended its 16-month mission on March 1, 2009, when it crashed into the moon's surface.

The second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, was launched on Oct 1 last year. China plans to its third unmanned probe to the moon, Chang'e-3, in 2013.

“A soft-landing on moon will be a main aim for Chang'e-3,” Ye said, adding a China-designed moon rover would land with Chang'e-3.

The moon rover is a robot that can move and accomplish complicated tasks of detecting, collecting and analysing samples.

According to China's three-phase moon exploration plan, the first phase was the launch of Chang'e-2. The second will be when Chang'e-3 lands on the moon in 2013.

Then, in 2017, a moon rock sample will be returned to earth.

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