South Korea's first lunar orbiter, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) also known as Danuri, has started its five-month journey to the moon. If the Danuri enters lunar orbiter late this year as scheduled, Korea will become the seventh country in the world to start lunar exploration.
The lunar orbiter was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the 40th launch pad at the Space Forces Bases in Cape Canaveral in the U.S. at 8:08:48 a.m. on Monday (7:08:48 p.m. on Sunday, local time). The Danuri had its first communication with a ground station at 9:40 a.m. or about an hour and 30 minutes after the launch, and successfully entered the target trajectory called a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory, the Ministry of Science and ICT said.
South Korea invested in the Danuri a total of 236.7 billion won (about 182 million U.S. dollars) for seven years since its development started in January 2016. The name Danuri meaning ‘enjoy the entire moon without reservation before returning’ was picked through a public contest this year.
The Danuri, which entered the planned trajectory, has taken on 130-something day journey to the moon. The orbiter will use ballistic lunar transfer trajectory (BLT), which is designed to put the orbiter on moon orbit by using gravity of the Earth, the moon and the sun. After entering BLT, the lunar orbiter will change its trajectory up to nine times. Even after entering the lunar orbiter, it will make five additional maneuvers to enter the final destination of the circular orbit 100 kilometers over the moon. It will enter the target orbit on December 31, before starting exploring the moon in earnest on Jan. 1, 2023. The Danuri will carry out its mission while circumnavigating lunar orbit 12 times per day for one year.
Experts say that Danuri’s launch has opened an era of South Korea’s space exploration. If the project proves successful, South Korea will become the seventh country in the world to succeed in either lunar landings or lunar orbiter explorations after Russia, the U.S., Japan, European Union, China and India. With the successful launch of the Danuri shortly after the successful launch of the Korean space launch vehicle Nuri in June, the country is positioning itself as an emerging leader in space exploration.
President Yoon Suk-yeol made a Facebook post congratulating Danuri’s successful launch on the day. “Danuri is the Republic of Korea’s contingent group, which will advance the era of space economy for the country and an emerging powerhouse of resources,” President Yoon said. “We think of the message of dreams, hope and patience sent to us from Danuri, which has confidently opened its wings in the profoundly deep universe.”