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China has announced plans to send an unmanned rocket to the moon in 2013, an effort to further the country’s ambitious space program -- but Beijing faces serious competition to plant the next flag on the moon.
The official China News Service said that the Chang'e Three orbiter will carry out surveys on the surface of the moon, according to a report on Reuters -- catching up to a U.S. achievement from 45 years ago.
The communist country tested a new rocket engine Sunday that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene, which will power future missions to the moon, according to news reports.
If successful, China’s probe would be the first craft to land on the moon as part of a mission since the Soviets managed it in the 1970s. The country also said it plans to land a man on the moon, a feat only achieved by the United States, most recently in 1972, the AFP noted.
"I think it's well within China's capability and budget," Chen Lan, an independent space analyst, told the AFP of next year's planned mission.
Neither the Russians nor the U.S. is currently capable of landing a man on the moon. Since the end of the space shuttle era, NASA’s has focused its eyes on a new spacecraft for manned exploration of space, the Orion multipurpose vehicle, which won’t be ready until 2017 at the earliest.
But China will nonetheless face stiff competition from a growing private space industry in the U.S. and elsewhere. The industry has its eyes on the moon and the cash that can be extracted from rocks and craters.
Astrobotic Technology announced plans in May for an ice prospecting robot, Polaris, to be launched to the Moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket like the one that successfully lifted this spring from Cape Canaveral. That vehicle is set to launch in 2015, the company said.
Moon Express has announced plans to piggyback on private space cargo flights, using them to carry its lunar landers and mining platforms to the moon.
"People ask, why do we want to go back to the moon? Isn't it just barren soil?" Jain told FoxNews.com last year. "But the moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective."
And a host of other companies from a variety of countries are competing for a $30 million prize from Google to reach the moon’s surface, a competition called the Lunar X Prize.
One country no longer in the battle: Russia, which has said manned missions are no longer a priority.
Indeed, the country recently sold four 1970s-era Soviet Almaz program three-crew capsules and two Russian Salyut-class 63,800-pound space station pressure vessels to spaceflight firm Excalibur Almaz, which plans to sell about 30 seats between 2015 and 2025, for $150 million each.
Green cheese indeed.