The Chang'e-5 sample mission will be carried out sometime before 2020, said Hu Hao, chief designer of the lunar exploration program's third phase.
The three-step lunar exploration mission features "circle, land and return," phases, he said.
"Scientists believe we need to launch the spacecraft to prove that our current technical plan can actually bring Chang'e-5 home safely," Hu told China Daily at the annual session of the National People's Congress.
The Chang'e-5 capsule will fall through Earth's atmosphere at speeds of almost 7 miles per second as it returns with samples of lunar soil, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.
"The re-entry speed means the return capsule could overheat or prove difficult to track and control," Hu said.
No simulation test can recreate the conditions, he said, explaining the need for an actual launch test.