China's unfolding space plans include that country's first foray into exploration of the Moon.

A Chang'e I lunar orbiter is nearing final construction, being readied for rocketing to the Moon in 2007.

Preparations to launch Chang'e I — named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon — are to be completed by February for launch later next year, according to a November 29 report by China's Xinhua news agency.

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Among several tasks, the orbiter will provide three-dimensional images of the Moon's surface, chart elements on the Moon, measure the thickness of the lunar soil and monitor the space environment between the Moon and Earth.

Chang'e I is based on China's Dongfanghong III telecommunication satellite platform.

Earlier accounts from China had noted that Chang'e I is headed for an April liftoff.

Moon tunes

Last month, Xinhua reported that Chang'e I would be filled with "Moon tunes" — songs selected by public vote and a panel of experts. The songs would be broadcast to Earth via the lunar orbiter.

A majority of the tunes are Chinese folk songs, with "My Wonderful Hometown" receiving top votes, followed by "I Love China," "Singing Praises of the Motherland" and 27 others.

China's national anthem and "The East Is Red" — broadcast from the country's first satellite of Earth back in 1970 — will also be played from the Chang'e I.

Chang'e I is the first element of a multi-pronged lunar-exploration program, the Xinhua report noted.

The Moon orbiter is to be followed in later years by a remote-controlled lunar rover that would perform experiments and send data back to Earth.

In the third phase, an automated probe will be dispatched to the Moon that carries drilling gear to dig up lunar samples for return to Earth.

This three-part robotic exploration of the Moon would be wrapped up by 2017. At that time, China will consider a human mission to the Moon, the Xinhua news agency reported.

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