China plans to launch lunar probe Chang'e 5 in 2017, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence announced on Monday.
"The development of Chang'e 5 is proceeding smoothly," the administration's spokesman Wu Zhijian said at a press conference here.
The just-concluded Chang'e 3 mission marked completion of the second phase of the country's lunar programme, which includes orbiting, landing, and returning to Earth, reports Xinhua.
The lunar programme will enter the next stage of unmanned sampling and returning, which will include Chang'e 5 and 6 missions, said Wu.
"The programme's third phase will be more difficult because many breakthroughs must be made in key technologies such as moon surface takeoff, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous, and docking in lunar orbit, and high-speed Earth re-entry, which are all new to China," Wu added.
As the back-up probe of the Chang'e 3, Chang'e 4 will be adapted to verify technologies for Chang'e 5, according to Wu.
China's Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 missions were launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Chang'e 2, launched Oct 1, 2010, is now about 65 million km from Earth and is conducting a long-term mission to verify China's deep-space tracking and control systems.