South Korea’s First Orbital Mission to the Moon is on its Way

South Korea launched its first robotic mission to the Moon last week, as a SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched the Danuri Lunar Pathfinder mission on August 4, 2022 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The spacecraft was placed into a fuel-saving lunar transfer orbit, and it should arrive in lunar orbit in December.

Translated, Danuri means “enjoy the Moon.”

The Danuri lunar orbiter, carried by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, Aug. 4, 2022. Via The Korea Times/ Joint Press Corps

The mission will circle the Moon for about a year at about 100 km above the surface, searching for possible landing sites for future missions, conducting scientific research of the lunar environment and testing space internet technology, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement. This mission will help prepare the country’s small space program for future exploration, as they hope to send a lander to the Moon by 2030.

If it successfully goes into orbit at the Moon, South Korea will become the seventh nation to undertake  lunar exploration.

The orbiter was developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), as well as at Korean research institutes and universities. It has six instruments on board and weighs 678-kilograms (1,500 pounds) craft has six payloads, including Korean-made equipment and a camera called ShadowCam that was built in cooperation with NASA.

You can follow Danuri’s path to the Moon at this KARI website.

The successful launch of Danuri follow’s South Korea’s successful launch of satellites into orbit with its homegrown Nuri rocket. This was a significant step for the bourgeoning space program.

Rocket launches have long been a delicate issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces international sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile program. Earlier this year, North Korea called for expanding its space rocket launch site to advance its own space ambitions, after South Korea and the United States accused it of testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile under the guise of launching a space vehicle.

A graphic showing the Danuri spacecraft orbiting the Moon. Credit: KARI on Instagram

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.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol celebrated Danuri’s successful launch, and in the Korea Times was quoted as saying, “The Danuri is a pioneer of the country that will advance the era of the space economy and make the country a natural resources powerhouse.”

Sources: CNN, Korea Times, KARI