China's third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013,
China's third lunar probe will blast off in the second half of 2013. (Reuters)

China will attempt to land an exploratory craft on the moon for the first time next year as it continues keep up the momentum of its space programme.

China's plans to land its third lunar probe on the moon in the second half of 2013 to transmit topographical and geological information, state television reported.

If successful, Chang'e-3 - named after the Chinese goddess of the moon - would be the first craft to be landed on the moon as part of a mission as opposed to performing a controlled crash-landing since the Soviet space programme in the 1970s.

A success for China would be regarded as a milestone for its multibillion-dollar space programme and another step forward in the rising global stature of the once poverty-stricken country.

Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, told Associated Press: "They [China] want a space programme that can be considered one of the finest in the world.

"If you want to be world leader in space, then you have to do missions like this."

This third lunar probe, following the launch of Chang'e-1 in 2007 and the Chang'e-2 in 2010, is regarded as a prelude to a manned space mission to the moon.

China wants to repeat a feat achieved only by the United States in 1972 although it has not set a timeframe.

The country is believed to have spent 39 billion yuan (£3.8bn) on its space programme since it began 20 years ago. It started in 1999 with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou-1 craft.

Two years later, Shenzhou-2 lifted off carrying small animals, and in 2003, China sent its first man into space.

Since then, it has completed a spacewalk in 2008 and this year the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft was launched with three astronauts inside. The craft manually docked with the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) module, which was launched on 29 September.