South Korea’s 1st moon mission liftoff!

Rocket heading upward.
Image of the August 4, 2022 launch of South Korea’s 1st moon mission, via Stephen Marr (@spacecoast_stve on Twitter). He wrote: “Go Falcon 9! The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter satellite is making its way to the moon!”

South Korea’s 1st moon mission

South Korea has now launched its first mission to the moon. We in the west call it the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, or KPLO. The South Korean Ministry of Science calls it Danuri, meaning moon enjoy. A SpaceX Falcon 9 boosted the mission to Earth orbit just after 7 p.m. EDT on August 4, 2022. Afterwards, the first stage booster then dropped successfully to the SpaceX drone ship Just Read the Instructions, in the Atlantic, for later refurbishment.

The KPLO spacecraft – which was developed and managed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) – is now in Earth orbit. Later, a translunar injection burn will send it on its way to the moon.

The plan is to bring the spacecraft to the moon in mid-December.

It’ll orbit the moon for 1 year

Once at the moon, KPLO will first go into an elliptical lunar orbit, and then a 60 mile (100-km) polar orbit. From there, the spacecraft will conduct science operations for about a year. NASA noted:

It’ll [carry] an array of South Korean experiments and one U.S.-built instrument. The objectives are to develop indigenous lunar exploration technologies, demonstrate a ‘space internet,’ and conduct scientific investigations of the lunar environment, topography, and resources, as well as identify potential landing sites for future missions …

NASA’s ShadowCam will ride along on the moon mission

NASA is flying its ShadowCam instrument aboard the lunar orbiter. It’ll be one of five instruments aboard Korea’s first moon mission. Investigators at Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems developed ShadowCam. NASA said:

ShadowCam will map the reflectance [brightness] within the permanently shadowed regions to search for evidence of frost or ice deposits. The instrument’s optical camera is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera, but is 800 times more sensitive …

ShadowCam will … detect seasonal changes and measure the terrain inside the craters, including the distribution of boulders.

Read more about ShadowCam

SpaceX and South Korea: More to come

Thursday’s launch via a Falcon 9 is expected to be only the beginning of the relationship between South Korea and SpaceX, the world’s busiest launch provider.

Some time in 2023, SpaceX will launch the first of five spy satellites for South Korea. The eavesdropping sats will be used to monitor North Korea’s growing nuclear capability, giving the South Korean military imagery with 30- to 60-centimeter (12- to 24-inches) resolution every two hours. The launch contract was formalized in April 2022 and runs through 2025.

Moon mission: Left panel: a permanently shadowed lunar crater. Right panel: a spacecraft mapping the crater from above.
Artist’s concept of the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter mapping permanently shadowed areas of the lunar surface. The KPLO, South Korea’s 1st lunar mission, will launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 lift vehicle. Image via KARI.

Bottom line: South Korea launched its first mission to the moon on August 4, 2022.

Check out EarthSky’s Launches blog … the best in spaceflight updates.

August 4, 2022

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Dave Adalian

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