South Korean spacecraft launched to the moon, country’s 1st
South Korea joined the rush to the moon on Thursday with the launch of a lunar orbiter that will explore future landing sites.
The SpaceX-launched satellite will take a long detour to save fuel and will arrive in December.
If successful, it will join US and Indian spacecraft already operating around the moon, and a Chinese rover exploring the far side of the moon.
India, Russia and Japan have new moon missions later this year or next year, as well as a slew of private companies in the US and elsewhere. And NASA is next with the debut of its mega-moon rocket in late August.
South Korea’s $180 million mission — the country’s first step in lunar exploration — features a boxy, solar-powered satellite designed to fly just 100 kilometers above the lunar surface. Scientists expect to collect geological and other data from this low polar orbit for at least a year.
It is South Korea’s second space shot in six weeks.
In June, South Korea successfully launched a package of satellites into orbit for the first time using its own rocket. Last fall’s first attempt failed because the test satellite was unable to reach orbit.
And in May, South Korea joined a NASA-led coalition to explore the moon with astronauts for years and decades to come. NASA is aiming for the first launch in its Artemis program by the end of this month. The goal is to send an empty crew pod around the moon and back to test the systems before a crew climbs aboard in two years.
Danuri, Korean for “enjoy the moon,” carries six scientific instruments, including a camera for NASA. It is designed to look into the permanently shadowed, ice-filled craters at the lunar poles. NASA prefers the moon’s south pole for future astronauts’ outposts because of evidence of frozen water.
South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft on the moon – a robotic probe – by 2030 or so.
“Danuri is just the beginning,” Sang-Ryool Lee, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said on the SpaceX launch webcast.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying Danuri took off from Cape Canaveral close to sunset. The first stage booster, which was making its sixth flight, landed on an ocean platform minutes later for further recycling.
It was the third space image of the day from the US
United Launch Alliance started at sunrise in Florida, launching an Atlas V rocket with an infrared missile detection satellite for the US Space Force. Then Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company sent six passengers on a fast ride to space from West Texas.
Around the world, the Rocket Lab company launched a small classified satellite from New Zealand for the US National Reconnaissance Office.
NASA satellite breaks out of orbit, heads to moon
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