Beijing: China mulls over sending a drill machine to the moon in 2017 on its mission to bring rock samples to the earth.

The fifth lunar probe - Chang'e-5  - aims at drilling the moon surface deep and bring rock samples. It will carry a lunar surface patrol device and other equipment, said Ye Peijian, chief designer of the country's first moon probe.

"Chang'e-5 will also carry a drilling machine to get moon rock from a depth of two meters underground," he told official media here.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, named after the country's mythical Moon Goddess, on Oct 24, 2007. The probe ended its 16-month mission on March 1, 2009, when it crashed into the moon's surface.

The second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, was launched on Oct 1 last year. It entered its long-term lunar orbit on Nov 3, beginning a six-month mission to take high-resolution images of the moon's Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows.

China plans to its third unmanned probe to the moon, Chang'e-3, in 2013.

"A soft-landing on moon will be a main aim for Chang'e-3," Ye said, adding a China-designed moon rover would land with Chang'e-3.

The moon rover is a robot that can move and accomplish complicated tasks of detecting, collecting and analyzing samples.

According to China's three-phase moon exploration plan, the first phase was the launch of Chang'e-2. The second will be when Chang'e-3 lands on the moon in 2013.

Then, in 2017, a moon rock sample will be returned to earth.

Space experts have said the country would conduct more than 20 space missions this year as it accelerated efforts to improve space technologies. Last year China conducted 15 space missions.