China has launched its first ever spacecraft designed to orbit the moon. The Chang’e One orbiter has lifted off from the southwestern province of Sichuan. Authorities are hoping it will orbit the moon for more than a year, scanning the surface and sending back data.
It is reported this is in preparation for the planned launch of an unmanned moon vehicle in 2012 and a human landing in future decades. The orbiter is named after a mythical Chinese goddess who flew to the moon.
Officials say the launch will help China catch up with Japan and India regarding space technology. After concerns were raised when China fired a missile to blow up one of its own weather satellites in January, Beijing has insisted its space programme is solely for peaceful purposes.