Seoul's 'Danuri' spacecraft is on its way to lunar orbit after launching on a rocket produced by SpaceX
South Korea has embarked on its first mission to the moon, launching a craft intended to scout out future landing sites on the lunar surface and collect valuable scientific data from low orbit for at least one year.
The 'Danuri' orbiter successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday night, traveling atop a Falcon 9 rocket produced by American firm SpaceX. After around 40 minutes, the craft separated from the rocket's second stage and began its trip to the moon in earnest, a journey expected to take several months.
Using a roundabout course designed to conserve fuel, the Danuri will reach the moon's orbit in December, where it will join other spacecraft operated by the United States and India, as well as a Chinese lunar rover charting the moon's far side.
The South Korean craft will gather information about the moon's surface and magnetic field, aiming to maintain a low polar orbit of just 62 miles (100 kilometers). It is hoped the data-collection will continue for at least a year.
Seoul has pressed ahead on multiple space missions in recent months, successfully launching satellites into orbit in June using its own rocket for the first time following a failed attempt last year. In May, meanwhile, it joined a collective of agencies led by NASA aiming to again send astronauts to the moon's surface at some point in the coming years, and South Korea is already discussing plans for a robotic probe mission by 2030.
Other nations are also seeking to get in on the race to Earth's lone natural satellite, with Russia hoping to send off its Luna-25 lander by September after a series of delays, while Israel will take a crack at a landing in 2024 with its Beresheet 2 mission.
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Danuri - which means "enjoy the moon" in Korean - brought six major scientific instruments into space, including various sensors and a camera designed to see perpetually darkened craters at the moon's poles, believed to be filled with water ice.