Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbit KPLO South Korea’s First Lunar Mission

South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter on Friday, August 5, marking the first step towards ensuring the East Asian country’s capability of space exploration. 

The Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), nicknamed ‘Danuri’, is South Korea’s first Moon mission. The lunar orbiter was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

What Is Danuri, South Korea’s First Lunar Mission?

Danuri, meaning “enjoy the Moon”, is developed and managed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The lunar orbiter will orbit the Moon for one year carrying an array of South Korean experiments and an instrument built by the United States. 

The mission was the 97th orbital launch mission of 2022. 

The KARI had signed a lunar exploration technical cooperation agreement with NASA which greatly increased the possibility of exploration success, according to

The first Korean lunar probe is expected to carry out the mission of lunar observation while flying at an altitude of 100 kilometres above the Moon, according to the official website of KARI. 

NASA supports the payloads, deep space communication, and navigation technology for the KPLO project. 

The spacecraft is advancing towards a 300-kilometre Earth orbit. Danuri will be separated from the launch vehicle after entering the geostationary transfer orbit. The solar panels will be automatically deployed upon facing the Sun. 

After this, the engine will fire five times and make the orbiter move to a circular orbit. Danuri will then use a sensor to acquire a position facing the Earth, and reach the satellite mission altitude.

Danuri will move towards the Moon through the lunar orbit transfer method, a technique to approach the lunar orbit by using the gravitational field of the Sun and Earth. 

Danuri is expected to reach the Moon by mid-December.

After going through an initial testing phase upon entry into lunar orbit, Danuri will start filming the lunar surface.

According to NASA, Danuri will conduct science operations for approximately a year after circularising to a 100-kilometre nominal polar orbit. 

The orbiter will descend to a 70-kilometre orbit or lower if the mission has an extended phase. 

The KPLO was originally slated for launch in December 2020. 

What Are The Objectives Of South Korea’s First Moon Mission?

The objectives of South Korea’s first Moon mission are to develop indigenous lunar exploration technologies, conduct scientific investigations of the lunar environment, topography, and resources, identify potential landing sites for future missions, and demonstrate a “space internet”. Danuri will investigate lunar geology and test future space and planetary exploration technology which will facilitate future human activities on the Moon. 

How Is Danuri Designed?

The Danuri spacecraft weighs 500 kilograms, and has a cubic shape with two solar panel wings, and a parabolic antenna. The orbiter will carry out communications via S-band and X-band, according to NASA. 

Danuri will operate at 760 Watts, and will be powered by solar panel arrays and rechargeable batteries. The orbiter has a mono propulsion system, which consists of four 30 N orbital manoeuvre thrusters and four attitude control thrusters. Controlling the orientation of the axis of a satellite that is orbiting in space is known as attitude control. 

Danuri is equipped with five science instruments and a Disruption Tolerant Network experiment. 

The five instruments aboard Danuri are a Wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam), a Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (KGRS), a Lunar Terrain Imager (LUTI), a Magnetometer (KMAG), and a high sensitivity camera developed by NASA. The camera is called ShadowCam. The total mass of the scientific payloads is 40 kilograms.

What Are The Functions Of The Instruments Aboard KPLO?

Danuri is equipped with two indigenously built cameras, namely Lunar Terrain Imager (LUTI) and PolCam. 

LUTI, a high-resolution camera, will capture images of the entire lunar surface, sending some spectacular photographs to Earth.

PolCam is a polarised camera designed to analyse the lunar surface particles. 

KMAG is a lunar magnetic field-measuring instrument meant to measure the magnetic field intensity around the Moon. This may help scientists better understand how the Moon was formed.

The Moon has localised magnetic features such as swirls, which are bright features with the appearance of abstract paintings, and are unique to the Moon. Danuri will measure these weak magnetic fields.

KGRS is a gamma-ray spectrometer that will identify the elements constituting the lunar surface and their distribution pattern. The payload will track the magnetic field between Earth and the Moon. 

According to an article published by Nature, KGRS will look for spontaneous gamma-ray bursts produced by massive dying stars. 

Scientists believe that KGRS will create the clearest maps yet of the distribution of elements on the Moon, including thorium, titanium, iron, and uranium.

According to the KARI, ShadowCam, a highly sensitive visible light camera, will capture images of the permanently shadowed regions on the lunar surface to find the evidence of water. 

Future missions that will send spacecraft to the Moon include India’s Chandrayaan-3 and NASA’s Artemis Program.

South Korea’s next lunar mission is Korean Lunar Explorer (KLE), which consists of an orbiter and a lander unit equipped with a small rover.