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XICHANG, Sichuan — China moved closer to its goal of landing on the moon as its second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, blasted off seconds before 7:00 pm on Friday from the southwestern city of Xichang.
A Long March 3-C launch vehicle, with Chang'e-2 on top, lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province at 6:59:57 pm as planned.
The circumlunar satellite separated from the rocket at 7:26 pm to enter the Earth-moon transfer orbit. In less than five days, it will enter a 100-kilometer lunar orbit.
About an hour after the launch, Li Shangfu, director of the Xichang launch center, declared the launch a success to cheers and applause in the command and control hall.
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The Chang'e-2 mission is considered "a starting point" of the second stage of China's lunar exploration program that focuses on landing on the moon, a spokesperson for the lunar exploration program, said.
The probe plans to test technology in preparation for an unmanned moon landing in 2013.
Developed with indigenous technology, the 900-million-yuan ($134 million) Chang'e-2 mission will test key components for a soft-landing on the moon.
Friday's mission marked the first time that a Chinese lunar probe directly entered the Earth-moon transfer orbit without orbiting the earth first.
"It is a major breakthrough in rocket design, as it saves energy used by the satellite and speeds up the journey to lunar orbit," Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying.
The circumlunar satellite will be sent directly into the Earth-moon transfer orbit and travel some 112 hours before being captured by the moon's gravity and entering the 100-km lunar orbit.