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China's Second Moon Probe to Launch This Weekend

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China plans to launch its second lunar probe this weekend, possibly as early as Friday (Oct. 1), according to the nation's official Xinhua news agency.

On Thursday, workers will begin fueling the Long March rocket that will blast the unmanned Chang'e-2 probe into space from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, Xinhua reported.

Launch will occur "at an appropriate time" between Friday China's National Day, when the country marks 61 years of Communist rule and Sunday (Oct. 3), according to Xinhua.

Chang'e-2 is the second step in China's three-phase Chang'e moon exploration program, which is named after China's mythical moon goddess. Chang'e-2 will test out technology and collect data on possible landing sites for the Chang'e-3 spacecraft, which is scheduled to land on the moon in 2013, Xinhua reported.

According to the state news agency, Chang'e-2 should arrive at lunar orbit about five days after launch. It will eventually swoop down to an orbit just nine miles (15 km) above the lunar surface to take high-resolution pictures of landing areas for Chang'e-3.

After snapping the photos, Chang'e-2 will retreat to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) to conduct a study of the lunar surface and dirt.

The Chang'e-1 probe launched in October 2007 and conducted a 16-month moon observation mission, after which it crash-landed on the lunar surface by design, in March 2009.

Chang'e is just one prong of China's burgeoning space program, which has seen three successful manned spaceflights, including the nation's first spacewalk on the most recent mission, the Shenzhou 7 flight of 2008.

Weather forecasts for the Xichang area this weekend are for overcast skies with possible showers, Xinhua reported.