South Korea is heading for the moon.
Last night the country launched its first-ever lunar mission, in fact its first-ever mission beyond low Earth orbit. Formerly called the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), the mission, run by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), is now called Danuri, a play on the Korean words for “moon” and “enjoy.” Its main goal is to test South Korea’s lunar spacecraft technology before attempting to land on the surface, tentatively in 2030 if all goes well.
Danuri was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:08 p.m. EDT on August 4, with the rocket booster landing successfully on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone a few minutes after takeoff.
The spacecraft is now on a very circuitous route to the moon. It will first fly toward the sun before looping back to its destination, arriving in lunar orbit in mid-December. Taking this longer route, known as the Ballistic Lunar Transfer, uses gravitational assistance from the sun to make the journey more fuel efficient.
When Danuri arrives on the Moon, stationed in a 62-mile high orbit, she will carry out research with her six scientific instruments: a magnetometer, a gamma-ray spectrometer, an experimental communication system and three cameras, including one designed by the Nasa. which is sensitive enough to see inside permanently shadowed craters of the moon, which may contain water ice.
If the mission is successful, South Korea will become the eighth political body to carry out a lunar mission, joining the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, Japan, India, Luxembourg and the European Union. . The majority of those missions were flybys and orbiters, plus a handful of robotic landings and just six human landings.
It’s a busy year for the moon. NASA recently launched its CAPSTONE mission and its Artemis I mission is scheduled to launch later this month. Russia is set to return to the moon for the first time since 1976 with its Luna-25 lander, slated for launch later this year. And several private organizations are linked to the moon, including the American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, which will fly under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, as well as the Japanese company ispace, which will carry a rover built by the United Arab Emirates.