Time for China's lunar probe to slam on the brake

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BEIJING, Nov 5 (Reuters) China's first lunar obiter reached a critical point on its journey today when it was due to pull on the brake before entering the moon's orbit, state media said.

Chang'e One was due to have started braking so it could be captured by lunar gravity and become a circumlunar satellite, Xinhua news agency quoted a Beijing aerospace official as saying.

''The speed of Chang'e One can reach 2.4 km per second when it arrives at perilune (closest to the moon), and it will likely fly away from the moon if the braking is not conducted in time,'' Wang Yejun of Beijing Aerospace Control Centre was quoted as saying.

After entering lunar orbit, Chang'e One is scheduled to scan the lunar surface in preparation for an unmanned moon vehicle planned for 2012 and a manned landing within 15 years.

In 2003, China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit and plans a space walk by 2008.

But China's space plans have faced increasing international scrutiny. Fears of a potential space arms race with the United States and other powers have mounted since it blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.

Japan plans to launch its first mission to land a spacecraft on the moon in the next decade -- a feat so far achieved only by the former Soviet Union and the United States.

REUTERS SZ KN0906

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