CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — (AP) — South Korea joined the moon rush Thursday with the launch of a lunar orbiter that will scout future landing spots.
The SpaceX-launched satellite is taking a long circuitous route to save fuel and will arrive in December.
If successful, it will join spacecraft from the United States and India already operating around the moon, and a Chinese rover exploring the far side of the moon.
India, Russia and Japan have launched new moon missions later this year or next, as have a slew of private companies in the US and elsewhere. And NASA is next with the launch of its mega lunar rocket in late August.
South Korea’s $180 million mission – the country’s first step in lunar exploration – includes a solar-powered square satellite designed to fly just 100 kilometers above the lunar surface. Scientists expect to collect geological and other data for at least a year from this low polar orbit.
This is South Korea’s second space launch in six weeks.
In June, South Korea successfully launched an array of satellites into Earth orbit for the first time using its own rocket. The first test last fall failed, with the test satellite failing to reach orbit.
And in May, South Korea joined a NASA-led coalition to explore the Moon with astronauts in the years and decades to come. NASA is targeting the end of this month for the first launch of its Artemis program. The goal is to send an empty crew capsule around the moon and test the systems before a crew comes on board in two years.
Danuri – Korean for “enjoy the moon” – carries six scientific instruments, including a camera for NASA. It is designed to peer into permanently shadowed, ice-filled craters at the lunar poles. NASA favors the lunar south pole for future astronaut outposts due to evidence of frozen water.
South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft on the moon – a robotic probe – by around 2030.
“Danuri is just the beginning,” said Sang-Ryool Lee, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, during SpaceX’s launch webcast.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying Danuri lifted off from Cape Canaveral near sunset. The first-stage booster – making its sixth flight – landed on an ocean platform minutes later for further recycling.
It was the third space launch of the day from the United States
United Launch Alliance kicked off at sunrise in Florida, launching an Atlas V rocket with an infrared missile detection satellite for the US Space Force. Next, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin sent six passengers into space from West Texas.
Around the world, the company Rocket Lab launched a small classified satellite from New Zealand for the US National Reconnaissance Office.
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