South Korea is heading for the moon.
Last night, the country launched its first lunar mission – in fact, its first mission beyond low Earth orbit. Formerly called the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), the mission managed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is now called Danuri, a play on the Korean words for “moon” and “enjoy.” Its main purpose is to test the technology of South Korea’s lunar spacecraft before attempting to land on the surface, tentatively in 2030, if all goes well.
Danuri blasted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:08 p.m. EDT on Aug. 4, with the rocket’s booster landing successfully on the Just-Read-the-Instructions drone ship just minutes after liftoff .
The spacecraft is now on a very circuitous route to the Moon. It will first fly toward the sun before heading back to its destination, arriving in lunar orbit in mid-December. Taking this longer route, known as a ballistic lunar transfer, uses gravitational assistance from the sun to make the trip more economical.
When Danuri arrives at the moon, positioned in a 62-mile-high orbit, it will conduct research with its six scientific instruments: a magnetometer, a gamma-ray spectrometer, an experimental communications system and three cameras, including one designed by NASA that is sensitive enough to see inside the moon’s permanently shadowed craters, which may contain water ice.
If the mission is successful, South Korea will become the eighth political entity to carry out a mission to the moon, joining the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, Japan, India, Luxembourg and the European Union. The majority of these missions were flyby and orbital, plus a handful of robotic landings and only six human landings.
This is a busy year for the Moon. NASA recently released its CAPSTONE missionand it is Artemis I the mission is set to launch later this month. Russia is slated to return to the moon for the first time since 1976 with its Luna-25 lander, due for launch later this year. And several private entities are connected to the Moon, including American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive machineswhich will fly under NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.as well as a Japanese company ispacewhich will carry a rover built by the United Arab Emirates.