South Korea is heading towards 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 named Danuri, a take on the Korean words for “moon” and “bliss”. There is drama. Its primary goal is to test South Korea’s lunar spacecraft technology before it bids to land on the surface, tentatively in 2030 if all goes well.
Danuri launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Aug. 4 at 7:08 p.m. EDT, just minutes after the rocket’s booster was successfully landing on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructables” .
The spacecraft is now on a very winding path to the Moon. It will fly toward the Sun before heading back to its destination, reaching lunar orbit in mid-December. It uses gravity assists by the Sun to make travel more fuel-efficient, taking the longer route known as ballistic lunar transfer.
When Danuri reaches the Moon in a 62-mile-high orbit, it will conduct research with six of its science instruments: a magnetometer, a gamma-ray spectrometer, an experimental communications system, and three cameras, including one designed by NASA. Camera is also included. which is sensitive enough to look inside the Moon’s permanently shadowed craters, which may contain water ice.
Should the mission be successful, South Korea would join the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, Japan, India, Luxembourg and the European Union to become the eighth political body to carry out a Moon mission. Most of those missions were flybys and orbiters, along with a handful of robotic landings and only six manned landings.
This is 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, which is scheduled to launch later this year. And several private organizations are tied to the Moon, including American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, which will fly under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, as well as Japanese company iSpace, which carries a United Arab Emirates-built rover. Will go