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SpaceX launches South Korea’s 1st-ever moon mission, lands rocket at sea

South Korea is coming to the moon.

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) lifted off today (Aug. 4) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, kicking off South Korea’s first-ever deep-space mission and setting the stage for more ambitious moon efforts later on.

KPLO, also referred to as Danuri, “would be the first rung on the ladder for ensuring and verifying [South Korea’s] capacity for space exploration,” officials with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), that is managing the mission, said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Related: Every mission to the moon (reference)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying South Korea's Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter spacecraft launches on Aug. 4, 2022.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying South Korea’s Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, also called Danuri, launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Aug. 4, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

This first rung on the ladder will lead toward a robotic moon landing by 2030, if all goes in accordance with plan a milestone that’ll be huge for South Korea. “Lunar exploration will improve the space technologies of Korea, raise the value of Korea and stimulate pride [in] Korean[s],” the KARI statement added.

The Falcon 9 rose off a pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station today at 7: 08 p.m. EDT (2308 GMT). The rocket’s two stages separated 2.five minutes after launch and went their separate ways. The initial stage came down for a pinpoint landing on the SpaceX droneship “Just Browse the Instructions” nine minutes after liftoff. It had been the sixth touchdown up to now for the veteran booster, SpaceX said in a mission description (opens in new tab).

The next stage continued carrying KPLO in to the sky, ultimately deploying the spacecraft right into a ballistic lunar transfer orbit as planned 40 minutes after liftoff. But KPLO still includes a good way to go; it will require an extended, looping and incredibly fuel-efficient path to the moon, finally slipping into lunar orbit in mid-December. That orbit will undoubtedly be circular and just 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the moon’s gray dirt.

KPLO’s lunar arrival should come in regards to a month from then on of NASA’s tiny CAPSTONE probe, which launched in late June and is going for a similarly circuitous way to Earth’s nearest neighbor.

A number of science work

The $180 million KPLO mission is primarily about demonstrating technologies had a need to reach and explore the moon, but Danuri (a portmanteau of two Korean words which means that “moon” and “enjoy”) may also do meaningful science work from its orbital perch.

The 1,495-pound (678 kilograms) spacecraft carries six science instruments, five of these homegrown and something, called ShadowCam, supplied by NASA. This gear will gather a number of data throughout a mission made to last a minumum of one year.

For instance, Danuri sports a magnetometer, whose measurements may help scientists better understand the moon’s remnant magnetic field specifically, the mysterious patches where that field is anomalously strong.

Danuri imagery may also help mission planners scout out good spots for South Korea’s future lunar landing mission, KARI officials said. And ShadowCam that is predicated on, but a lot more sensitive than, the LROC camera system aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will search for water ice in permanently shadowed lunar craters.

Those craters are believed to harbor plenty of water ice, however the true extent and accessibility of this key resource aren’t well understood.

Aiding Artemis

NASA’s involvement in KPLO extends beyond ShadowCam; the American space agency also selected nine researchers to take part in the mission.

“It’s fantastic that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute lunar mission has NASA as somebody in space exploration we’re excited to start to see the new knowledge and opportunities which will arise from the KPLO mission in addition to from future joint KARI-NASA activities,” KPLO project manager Sang-Ryool Lee said in a statement this past year (opens in new tab), soon after the nine participating scientists’ names were announced.

And the KARI-NASA collaboration could become extensive. NASA’s Artemis program is attempting to set up a permanent, sustainable human presence on and round the moon by 2030 and is therefore looking forward to data concerning the option of lunar resources data that ShadowCam along with other Danuri instruments could provide.

South Korea can be a signatory to the Artemis Accords, a couple of principles made to facilitate the responsible exploration of the moon. South Korea signed the Accords in-may 2021, becoming the 10th nation to take action. Eleven other countries have since followed suit.

Mike Wall may be the writer of “ON THE MARKET (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book concerning the seek out alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Mike Wall

Michael Wall is really a Senior Space Writer (opens in new tab)and joined the team in 2010.He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been recognized to dabble in the area art beat.His book concerning the seek out alien life, “ON THE MARKET,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before learning to be a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He’s got a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To discover what his latest project is, it is possible to follow Michael on Twitter.

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