South Korea successfully launched its first home-developed lunar orbiter Friday, becoming the seventh country to join the already competitive race to send spacecrafts to the moon.
The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, developed by Korea Aerospace Research Institute, lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:07 p.m. local time and successfully separated from SpaceX’s 549-ton Falcon 9 rocket around 45 minutes later, live broadcast of the launch showed.
Dubbed Danuri, which means moon and enjoy in Korean, the lunar orbiter successfully established communication with NASA’s space center in Canberra 92 minutes after liftoff and successfully entered into planned trajectory.
“It is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” Sang-Ryool Lee, president of KARI said in a pre-recorded video. “If we are more determined and committed to technology development for space travel, we will be able to reach Mars, asteroids, and so on in the near future.”
It will travel for four and a half months before entering lunar orbit late December to begin its mission in January using six lunar payloads, vice science minister Oh Tae-Seog said in a briefing. KPLO is on a year-long mission, but the period may be extended.
Danuri’s missions include searching for possible landing sites as well as conducting a wireless internet test by streaming a video of K-Pop group BTS’s hit song “Dynamite”, according to South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute.
The launch comes after South Korea launched its own fully developed rocket Nuri in June that placed a test satellite into Earth’s orbit. The country aims to allocate funds in the coming years to send an uncrewed spaceship to the moon by 2031.
The mission marks a new stage in cooperation between the Korean and US space programs. The spacecraft is carrying NASA’s ShadowCam, a camera co-developed by Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems, an imaging company based in San Diego. ShadowCam will collect images of permanently shadowed regions, helping the search for evidence of ice deposits, according to a NASA statement.
This month is shaping up to be a busy one for NASA’s lunar plans. The agency has set an Aug. 29 launch date for Artemis I, an uncrewed spacecraft that will be the first in a series of missions intended to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program.