CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — South Korea joined the stampede to the moon Thursday with the launch of a lunar orbiter that will scout out future landing spots. The satellite that SpaceX launched will reach its destination in December. It is on a slow, circular path to save fuel.
If successful, it will join spacecraft from the U.S. and India already operating around the moon, and a Chinese rover exploring the moon’s far side.
India, Russia and Japan have new moon missions launching later this year or next, as do a slew of private companies in the U.S. and elsewhere. And NASA is next up with the debut of its mega moon rocket in late August.
South Korea’s $180 million mission — the country’s first step in lunar exploration — features a boxy, solar-powered satellite designed to skim just 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the lunar surface. Scientists expect to collect geologic and other data for at least a year from this low polar orbit.
It is South Korea’s second shot at space in six weeks.
In June, South Korea launched its first satellite package into orbit around Earth using its rocket. Last fall’s first attempt failed with the satellite in orbit.
And, in May of this year, South Korea joined the NASA-led alliance to search the moon together with astronauts over the next years and decades. NASA is targeting the end of this month for the first launch in its Artemis program. It is hoped to launch an empty capsule to the moon to check the system before the crew climbs onboard in the next two years.
Danuri — Korean for “enjoy the moon” — is carrying six science instruments, including a camera for NASA. The camera is designed to allow you to see into permanently shadowed, frozen craters located at the lunar poles. NASA prefers to land at the lunar south pole as a base for its future astronaut stations due to evidence of frozen water.
South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft on the moon — a robotic probe — by 2030 or so.
“Danuri is just the beginning,” Sang-Ryool Lee, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said in the SpaceX launch webcast.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying Danuri took off from Cape Canaveral close to sunset. A few minutes later, the first-stage booster, which was making its sixth flight, landed on an offshore platform for recycling.
It was the third spaceshot of the day from the U.S.
United Launch Alliance kicked things off at sunrise in Florida, launching an Atlas V rocket with an infrared missile-detection satellite for the U.S. Space Force. Then Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company sent six passengers on a quick ride to space from West Texas.
Across the world, the company Rocket Lab launched a small classified satellite from New Zealand for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.
The post South Korean spacecraft launched to the moon, country’s 1st appeared first on Associated Press.