Cape Canaveral, Fla. — South Korea joined the moonshot on Thursday, launching a lunar orbiter that will scout for future landing sites.
The SpaceX-launched satellite, which takes a long circuitous path to save fuel, will arrive in December.
If successful, it would join US and Indian spacecraft already orbiting the moon, as well as Chinese rovers exploring the far side of the moon.
India, Russia and Japan will launch Crescent missions later this year or next, as will many private companies in the US and elsewhere. NASA will next launch its giant lunar rocket in late August.
South Korea’s $180 million mission — the first step in the country’s lunar exploration — features a boxy solar-powered satellite designed to skim just 62 miles across the lunar surface. Scientists hope to collect at least a year of geological and other data from this low-polar orbit.
This is South Korea’s second trip into space in six weeks.
In June, South Korea successfully launched a group of satellites into Earth orbit for the first time using its own rocket. The first attempt last fall failed, with the test satellite failing to reach orbit.
In May, South Korea joined a NASA-led alliance to explore the moon with astronauts in the years and decades to come. NASA aims to launch its Artemis program for the first time at the end of this month. The goal is to send an empty crew module back to the moon and back to test the system before astronauts land on the moon within two years.
Danuri – Korean for “enjoy the moon” – carries six scientific instruments, including a NASA camera. It was designed to observe permanently shadowed, ice-filled craters at the moon’s poles. With evidence of frozen water, NASA favors the lunar south pole as a future astronaut outpost.
South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft — a robotic probe — on the moon around 2030.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral at sunset.This is the third U.S. space shot of the day
United Launch Alliance started it at Sunrise, Florida, launching an Atlas V rocket with an infrared missile detection satellite for the U.S. Space Force. Then Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company blasted six passengers to space from West Texas.
Around the world, Rocket Lab launched a small classified satellite from New Zealand for the US National Reconnaissance Office.
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