South Korea launches its first lunar orbiter, Danuri, on a SpaceX rocket

South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter on Friday which is expected to reach the Moon by mid-December. Nicknamed Danuri, meaning “enjoy the Moon”, the Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida by Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX early Friday.

The 678 kg Danuri began communicating with a ground station around 9:40 a.m. “Analysis of the received information confirmed…Danuri was operating normally,” Vice Science Minister Oh Tae-seog told a briefing. He further informed that the orbiter had established a trajectory towards the moon.

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“Analysis of the received satellite information confirmed that Danuri’s solar panel was properly unfolded to start power generation,” Tae-seog further informed.

After it enters the moon’s orbit in December, it will start searching for a landing site, the ministry said. If it succeeds, South Korea will become the world’s seventh lunar explorer and the fourth in Asia, behind China, Japan and India.

A maintenance issue with the SpaceX rocket had earlier delayed the launch that was initially set to happen on Wednesday. Notably, South Korea has been placing huge focus on its space programme and aims to send a probe to the moon by 2030. 

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It has also joined the Artemis project aimed at returning to the moon by 2024, Reuters reported.

Danuri, which took seven years to build, will also test space internet technology to link satellites or exploration spacecraft. To test this wireless network, the orbiter will stream K-pop band BTS’ song “Dynamite”.

Scientists are also hopeful of Danuri finding hidden water sources and ice on the Moon, including the permanently dark and cold regions near the poles.

(With inputs from agencies)


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