Enjoy the moon! South Korea’s first lunar orbiter is launched into space by a SpaceX rocket

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Enjoy the moon! South Korea’s first lunar orbiter is launched into space by a SpaceX rocket as Seoul sets its sights on a 2030 landing

  • South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket today
  • Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter is nicknamed Danuri – meaning ‘enjoy the moon’
  • It will enter the moon’s orbit in December before observing for a year
  • If the mission succeeds, South Korea will become the seventh lunar explorer in the world

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South Korea’s first-ever lunar mission is underway after the country’s first lunar orbiter was shot into orbit on a SpaceX rocket.

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri – meaning “enjoy the moon” – was fired into space atop a Falcon 9 booster.

At a landmark moment that clears the way for Seoul’s more ambitious lunar efforts, the orbiter lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral US Space Force Station at 7:08 PM ET on Thursday (00:08 AM BST on Friday).

South Korea ultimately aims to land a probe on the moon by 2030, joining a host of other countries planning new missions to the lunar surface, including the US, Russia and China.

The $180 million (£148 million) Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) will enter lunar orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission.

Launch: South Korea embarked on its first-ever lunar mission after the country's first lunar orbiter was shot into orbit on a SpaceX rocket

Launch: South Korea embarked on its first-ever lunar mission after the country’s first lunar orbiter was shot into orbit on a SpaceX rocket

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri - meaning 'enjoy the moon' - was fired into space atop a Falcon 9 booster

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri - meaning 'enjoy the moon' - was fired into space atop a Falcon 9 booster

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri – meaning ‘enjoy the moon’ – was fired into space atop a Falcon 9 booster

HOW SOUTH KOREA ENTERED THE NEW SPACE RACE

Until just over two months ago, South Korea relied on other countries to carry its satellites, with most of the missile launches being carried out by the US, Russia, China, Japan, France and India.

That changed with the successful launch of its three-stage Nuri rocket on June 21.

This yielded a 357-pound working satellite in orbit, 435 miles above Earth.

The rocket also fired a 1.3-ton dummy satellite and four small cube satellites developed by universities for space research.

It brought the country closer to its dream of becoming a new player in the space industry, as it was too late to join the race due to a Cold War-era agreement with the US that allowed it to develop a space program.

This includes searching for a landing site, testing internet technology in space and sniffing rare elements on the moon, South Korea’s Ministry of Science said.

If successful, the country will become the seventh lunar explorer in the world and the fourth in Asia, after China, Japan and India.

KPLO’s moon arrival will come about a month after NASA’s small CAPSTONE probe, which launched in late June and also makes a detour to Earth’s only natural satellite.

South Korea’s 1495 lb (678 kg) orbiter separated about 40 minutes after the SpaceX rocket’s launch and later began communicating with a ground station.

“Analysis of the information received confirmed … Danuri was functioning normally,” Deputy Science Minister Oh Tae-seog told a briefing, announcing that the orbiter had established an orbit to the moon.

The spacecraft has six science instruments, five of which are homegrown and one, called ShadowCam, provided by NASA.

It will hunt for water ice in permanently shadowed lunar craters.

Measurements from a magnetometer on the orbiter could also help scientists better understand the moon’s remaining magnetic field.

The launch was initially scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed due to a maintenance issue with the SpaceX rocket.

In June, South Korea successfully launched its first satellites into orbit, which was also seen as a historic step in its space program.

Both developments bring the country closer to its dream of becoming a new player in the space industry, as it was too late to join the race due to a Cold War-era agreement with the US that would allow it to develop a space program.

The $180 million (£148 million) Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (pictured) will enter moon orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission

The $180 million (£148 million) Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (pictured) will enter moon orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission

The $180 million (£148 million) Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (pictured) will enter moon orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission

The three-stage Nuri rocket, built by the government’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute along with hundreds of local companies, was launched from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, about 500 kilometers south of Seoul.

Space launches have long been a sensitive topic in the Korean peninsula, where North Korea risks international sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile program.

In March, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for expansion of his space missile launch site to further his space ambitions, after South Korea and the US accused the country of testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile under the guise of launch a space vehicle.

South Korea says its space program is for peaceful and scientific purposes and that any military use of the technology, such as in spy satellites, is for its defense.

In June, South Korea successfully launched its first satellites into orbit in what was also seen as a historic step in its space program (pictured)

In June, South Korea successfully launched its first satellites into orbit in what was also seen as a historic step in its space program (pictured)

In June, South Korea successfully launched its first satellites into orbit in what was also seen as a historic step in its space program (pictured)

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