A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 39A with the seventh batch of SpaceX broadband network satellites, at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, April 2020

South Korea launches lunar orbiter as domestic space programme heats up

Image credit: REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY/File Photo

South Korea has launched a lunar orbiter ahead of the country’s plans to land a probe on the Moon by 2030.

The orbiter, named Danuri – 'enjoy the Moon' in Korean – was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a SpaceX rocket (pictured above in another launch). It will enter the Moon’s orbit in December.

Korea’s vice science minister Oh Tae-seog said that initial analysis suggested that Danuri was “operating normally” after the launch.

The 678kg orbiter was created by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), and has six payloads including Korean-made equipment.

One piece of equipment will investigate the lunar surface to identify potential landing sites for future missions, while another will evaluate disruption-tolerant, network-based space communications, and will be an early foray into a wireless internet environment that can link satellites or exploration spacecraft. 

“This is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” said KARI president Lee Sang-ryool ahead of the launch.

If it succeeds, South Korea will become the world’s seventh lunar explorer and the fourth in Asia, behind China, Japan and India.

Danuri’s launch was originally going to occur on Wednesday but was delayed by a day due to a maintenance issue with the SpaceX rocket.

While the South Korean space programme is currently using the services of private space firms, the country’s first domestically produced space rocket called Nuri launched from a small island off South Korea’s southern coast in October last year.

But while that rocket reached its target altitude, it failed to deliver a dummy payload into orbit some 600 to 800km above the Earth’s surface.

A second test launch of Nuri occurred last month as part of efforts to launch spy satellites.

China’s state media reported yesterday that the country had successfully launched a pilot reusable spacecraft.

The unidentified spacecraft, which was launched from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, will return to a planned landing site after operating in the orbit for some time to provide technical validations for reuses.

China said it made a big step towards developing reusable space transportation technology as it launched a spacecraft which returned to Earth on the same day after flying to the edge of the atmosphere in July.

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