South Korea launches first Moon mission: Danuri to explore future lunar landing sites

05 August 2022 06:37 PM
  • South Korea launches first Moon mission: Danuri to explore future lunar landing sites

South Korea joined an elite club of nations with lunar missions as its Danuri spacecraft took off onboard a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket.

South Korea became the seventh country in the world to launch a mission to the Moon as its orbiter hitched a ride on SpaceX Falcon-9. The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri, lifted off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral.

This is the first lunar mission by South Korea, which recently developed a space rocket launch capability. The lunar mission has been jointly developed by Nasa and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). Danuri features a boxy, solar-powered satellite designed to skim just 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the lunar surface, during which it will collect geologic and other data for at least a year from this low polar orbit.

The spacecraft is taking a long, roundabout path to the Moon in order to conserve fuel and will arrive at its destination in mid-December. If successful, the spacecraft will join India's Chandrayaan-2 and Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) around Earth's natural satellite as new missions make a beeline for the Moon.

Built at nearly $180 million, the spacecraft is carrying six science instruments, including a camera for Nasa. It’s designed to peer into the permanently shadowed, ice-filled craters at the lunar poles. Nasa favours the lunar south pole for future astronaut outposts because of evidence of frozen water.

Sang-Ryool Lee, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute said “Danuri is just the beginning.”

Danuri, which translates to enjoying the moon in Korean, has an expected lifetime of one year around the Moon and will orbit in a circular orbit at an altitude of 100 km and a 90-degree inclination angle.

The Moon is set to be the next big target for countries across the world with India, Russia, and Japan planning to launch new lunar missions later this year or next. Meanwhile, a slew of private companies in the US and elsewhere are also in the fray. The biggest among these missions will be Nasa's Space Launch System, which could be launched later this month.

The Space Launch System aims to return humans to the Moon in the future.

South Korea is slowly progressing in its space program, the country in June successfully launched a package of satellites into orbit around Earth for the first time using its own rocket. The first try last fall fizzled, with the test satellite failing to reach orbit. In May, South Korea joined a NASA-led coalition to explore the moon with astronauts in the coming years and decades.

South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft on the moon — a robotic probe — by 2030 or so.

Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces international sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile program. South Korea says its space program is for peaceful and scientific purposes and any military use of the technology, such as in spy satellites, is for its defense.