South Korea carried out the first lunar mission with a SpaceX rocket

South Korea carried out the first lunar mission with a SpaceX rocket
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Joining the list of countries with ambitious plans in space, South Korea set off for the moon on Thursday.

The first lunar spacecraft, Danuri, was launched into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 7:08 p.m. ET. After about 40 minutes and a series of engine starts, the Korean spacecraft separated from the rocket’s second stage and began its journey to the Moon.

When it reaches lunar orbit, it will join spacecraft from NASA, India and China currently exploring Earth. Danuri’s science payload will study the moon’s magnetic field, measure the amount of elements and molecules such as uranium, water and helium-3, and photograph the dark craters at the poles, where the sun never shines.

Originally known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, the mission is now named Danuri, a portmanteau of the Korean words for “moon” and “to enjoy.” This will be South Korea’s first space mission beyond low Earth orbit.

Its scientific instruments include a magnetometer, a gamma-ray spectrometer, and three cameras. NASA supplied one of the cameras, ShadowCam. This camera is sensitive enough to take a few photos that bounce off the terrain into the dark, permanently shadowed craters of the Moon. Located at the moon’s poles, these craters remain perpetually cold at temperatures below minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit and contain eons of accumulated water ice.

The ice could provide the Solar System’s 4.5 billion years of frozen history and plenty of resources for future astronauts to visit. Such ice can also be extracted and melted to provide water and broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, which will provide both air for astronauts to breathe and rocket fuel for travelers wishing to travel beyond the Moon.

South Korea is developing its own missiles. His first design, Naro-1 successfully reached orbit on the third attempt, in 2013. Since then, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute — South Korea’s equivalent of NASA — has turned its efforts to the larger, three-stage rocket, Nuri. The second Nuri flight In June, several satellites were successfully placed into orbit.

The United States and the Soviet Union sent numerous robotic spacecraft to the Moon beginning in the 1960s. NASA’s Apollo program sent astronauts He was there from 1968 to 1972. After that, the world lost almost all interest in the Moon for three decades, but activity has resumed.

In the past few years, China has experienced many successful robotic spacecraft, including three landers. NASA has sent several orbiters there and has attracted commercial companies to send payloads to the lunar surface in the coming years.

Japan and the European Space Agency have launched lunar missions, and India has sent two orbiters to the moon, although the lander accompanying the second orbiter crashed on its way to the surface in 2019.

In 2019, another mission, Beresheet, a lander built by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, also crashed while attempting to land on the moon.

The spacecraft takes a long, energy-efficient route to the Moon. It first heads toward the sun, then turns back to be eclipsed in the lunar orbit in mid-December. This “ballistic trajectory” takes longer, but does not require a large engine to be fired to slow the spacecraft down when it reaches the Moon.

Danuri will then adjust its orbit to 62 miles above the moon’s surface. The main scientific mission is planned to last for one year.

A small NASA-funded spacecraft, CAPSTONE, is headed to the Moon to explore a highly elliptical orbit where NASA plans to build a lunar outpost for future astronauts. It is scheduled to reach lunar orbit in November.

But the biggest event of the year will be Artemis 1, NASA’s unmanned test of the giant rocket and capsule that will take astronauts back to the moon in the coming years. NASA plans to launch in late August or early September.

Several commercial companies, ispace of Japan and Intuitive Machines of Houston, also hope to send small robotic landers to the moon later this year.

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