South Korea’s first lunar orbiter launched by SpaceX

South Korea’s first lunar orbiter has successfully launched a year-long mission to observe the Moon, Seoul said on Friday, with the payload including a new disruption-tolerant network to send data from space.

Danuri — a portmanteau of the Korean words for “Moon” and “enjoy” — was on a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., by Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX. The goal is to reach the Moon in mid-December.

“South Korea’s first lunar orbiter ‘Danuri’ departed into space at 8:08 a.m. on August 5, 2022,” the Seoul Science Ministry said in a tweet, sharing a video of the rocket taking off with a huge plume of smoke and flames.

“Danuri will be the first step towards the Moon and the more distant universe,” he said, apparently referring to the country’s ambitious space program, which includes plans for a mission to the Moon by 2030.

SpaceX tweeted that the launch was a success.

“The deployment of KPLO has been confirmed,” he said, referring to Danuri using an acronym of his official name, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

During its mission, Danuri will use six different instruments, including a highly sensitive camera provided by NASA, to conduct research, including probing the lunar surface to identify potential landing sites.

One of the instruments will evaluate network-based, interruption-tolerant space communications, which, according to the South Korean Ministry of Science, is a world first.

– BTS in space –

Danuri will also try to develop a wireless Internet environment to connect satellites or exploration spacecraft, they added.

The lunar orbiter will stream K-pop sensation BTS’ song “Dynamite” to test this wireless network.

Another instrument, ShadowCam, will record images of permanently shadowed regions around the Moon’s poles, where sunlight cannot reach.

Scientists also hope that Danuri will find hidden sources of water and ice in areas of the Moon, including the permanently dark and cold regions near the poles.

“This is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” Lee Sang-ryool, head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said in a video shown before the launch.

“Danuri is just the beginning, and if we are more determined and committed to developing technology for space travel, we could reach Mars, asteroids and so on in the near future.”

South Korean scientists say Danuri – which took seven years to build – will pave the way for the country’s most ambitious goal of landing on the moon by 2030.

“South Korea will become the seventh country in the world to launch an unmanned probe to the moon,” an official at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told AFP.

“We hope to continue contributing to the global understanding of the Moon with what Danuri is ready to discover.”

– Lunar ambitions –

Danuri was launched by a private company – SpaceX – but South Korea has recently become one of the few countries to successfully launch a one-ton payload using its own rockets.

In June, the country’s three-stage rocket dubbed the Nuri – a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) – was successfully launched and put a satellite into orbit, on its second attempt after a failure last October.

That launch – along with the Danuri launch on Friday – helps South Korea get closer and closer to achieving its space ambitions.

In Asia, China, Japan and India have advanced space programs – and the nuclear-armed neighbor to the South, North Korea, has also demonstrated satellite launch capability.

Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology, and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogram satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Washington condemned as a disguised missile test.

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