South Korea's first lunar spacecraft, Danuri ("enjoy the Moon") launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on August 4. The craft will follow a long, looping path to the Moon, so it won't enter orbit until December. The mission is the first of many robotic probes scheduled to head to the Moon in the next couple of years, with entries from Russia, China, Japan, India, and others in addition to a long list of missions by the United States. [SpaceX]
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Joining the Club
South Korea plans to join the club: countries that have sent missions to the Moon. KPLO — Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter — is scheduled to launch as early as next month. If it succeeds, it’ll make South Korea only the seventh nation or group of nations to reach the Moon.
The all-time leader in successful Moon missions is the United States, with the Soviet Union not far behind. In fact, they had a monopoly on the Moon until late in the last century. But in the last 25 years they’ve been joined by China, Japan, India, and Europe.
And the club soon could get even bigger. The United Arab Emirates plans to launch a mission this fall. And Mexico, Australia, Turkey, the UK, and others plan to send craft to the Moon, too.
KPLO is designed mainly as a test flight. It’ll build the technology — in space and on the ground — for more-ambitious missions in the future.
The craft will do some science. It’ll orbit the Moon from pole to pole, at an altitude of about 60 miles. From there, it’ll map the surface to help find good spots for future landers and rovers. And its instruments will look for lunar resources. The list includes frozen water, uranium, silicon, and helium-3, which we’ll talk about tomorrow. Those resources might someday be put to use by South Korea — potentially the next member of the “we’ve-been-to-the-Moon” club.
Script by Damond Benningfield