China Will Launch its Next Lunar Explorer in the First Half of This Year

The announcement came a day after a U.S. company abandoned a lunar landing planned for Feb. 23.

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Jiang Hongjing/Xinhua via AP, File

BEIJING (AP) β€” China's space agency said Wednesday that its latest lunar explorer had arrived at the launch site in preparation for a mission to the moon in the first half of this year.

State broadcaster CCTV posted photos on its website of the unit under wraps as it was unloaded from a large cargo airplane earlier this week and then transported by flatbed truck to the Wenchang launch site on southern China's Hainan island.

The announcement came a day after a U.S. company abandoned a lunar landing planned for Feb. 23 because of a fuel leak that started soon after takeoff on Monday.

China and the U.S. are both pursuing plans to land astronauts on the moon in what has become a growing rivalry in space. The U.S. plans to do so in 2026, and China's target date is before 2030.

The China National Space Administration said that pre-launch tests would be carried out on its Chang'e-6 probe. The mission's goals include bringing back samples from the far side of the moon.

Another U.S. moon lander from a Houston company is due to launch next month.

Four countries β€” the U.S., Russia, China and India β€” have landed spacecraft on the moon. Only the United States has previously put astronauts on the moon.

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