South Korea launches first lunar orbiter
South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter, The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri, meaning “enjoy the Moon”, on Friday.
South Korea’s science ministry said the lunar orbiter was launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral U.S. Space Force Station at 8:08 a.m. on Friday (2308 GMT on Thursday).
“Analysis of the received information confirmed … Danuri was operating normally,” Vice Science Minister Oh Tae-slog told a briefing, announcing that the orbiter had established a trajectory towards the moon.
It will enter the moon’s orbit in December before starting a year-long observation mission, including searching for a landing site and testing space internet technology, the ministry said.
The 678 kg (1,495 lb) Danuri separated from the projectile about 40 minutes after launch and began communicating with a ground station around 9:40 a.m.
If it succeeds, South Korea will become the world’s seventh lunar explorer and the fourth in Asia, behind China, Japan and India.
The launch was initially scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed because of a maintenance issue with the SpaceX rocket.
South Korea has been accelerating its space programme, with the goal of sending a probe to the moon by 2030.
It has also joined the Artemis project aimed at returning to the moon by 2024.
In July, South Korea held a second test launch of its domestically produced Nuri rocket and reported its first successful launch of a solid-fuel space-launch rocket in March as part of efforts to launch spy satellites.
Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces international sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programme.
South Korea says its space programme is for peaceful and scientific purposes and any military use of the technology, such as in spy satellites, is for its defence.