South Korea launches first moon mission in new wave of space exploration

SÃO APULO, SP (FOLHAPRESS) — If all goes well, South Korea’s first mission to the moon is set to depart this Thursday (4), ushering in what promises to be a new era of lunar exploration, in which multiple countries and companies said to have interests in the Earth’s natural satellite.

Better known by the acronym KPLO (Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter), the spacecraft will be sent on its way by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will be launched from platform 40 of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida. Takeoff is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. (Brasilia time).

Its main mission, as its name suggests, is to pave the way for future lunar exploration by the South Koreans. This is the country’s first deep space mission. The pioneering and avant-garde aspect of the project is also represented by the popular name given to the orbiter: Danuri, a combination of the words “dal” and “nurida” in Korean, which mean something like “enjoy the moon”. .

Still, that doesn’t mean KPLO doesn’t have the potential to do quality science. “The basic idea of ​​this mission is technology development and demonstration,” says Eunhyeuk Kim, a researcher at Kari (Korea Aerospace Research Institute, something like the South Koreans’ NASA). “Furthermore, by using scientific instruments, we hope to obtain useful data from the lunar surface.”

Keeping an eye on the shadows The spacecraft, weighing 678 kg, carries six instruments, five developed in South Korea and one in the United States. The American, known as ShadowCam, is a new version of the main camera of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), an American lunar orbiter that has been in operation since 2009.

Only, while the original was designed to photograph the illuminated regions of the Moon, this new camera focuses on recording shadows, with a sensitivity hundreds of times greater than what is done with the LRO camera. of origin. The plan is to observe the very little light reflected by the interior of craters located at the lunar poles, where sunlight never falls directly and where the presence of water ice has already been detected (by other means).

It is an essential natural resource for the future of lunar exploration. It becomes much more complicated to maintain a manned base to take all the necessary water on Earth.

The other instruments are a Lunar Terrain Camera (Luti), designed to capture surface images with a spatial resolution of less than 5 meters per pixel and help plan the next South Korean landing mission; a wide-field polarimetric camera (PolCam), which will capture polarized light from the entire surface of the Moon except the poles, in order to study the characteristics of the lunar soil; a magnetometer (Kmag), to measure the magnetic fields around the Moon; and a Delay Tolerant Network Communication Experiment (DTNPL), an effort to develop a type of interplanetary digital connection better suited for future missions.

Work, however, will only begin in earnest once the orbiter has reached the Moon and settled into its scientific orbit. And it will take time.

If it manages to take off as planned, on the 4th, or at the latest by the end of the first week of August, the KPLO will settle in lunar orbit on December 16th. Mission officials opted for a ballistic capture trajectory – that is, it will not be necessary to make a specific powered maneuver for orbital insertion, the probe will simply “drop” in the vicinity of the Moon at the right speed to be captured by the lunar gravity and placed in orbit.

To accomplish this trajectory, the spacecraft will first be placed on its way to the Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun, approximately 1.5 million kilometers away. From there, the vehicle will “fall back” to Earth, being intercepted by the Moon (about 390 km from the Earth’s surface) on the way. After orbital insertion, KPLO’s thrusters will only be used to circle the orbit, stabilizing it at an altitude of about 100 km from the lunar surface, towards the end of the year. This is followed by a month of testing and commissioning of the instruments, with scientific operations due to begin in February 2023. Depending on the efficiency of the maneuvers and the availability of fuel on board, the mission may be extended beyond 2024.

The South Korean KPLO spacecraft will first be placed on its way to the Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun, about 1.5 million kilometers away. From there, the vehicle will “fall back” to Earth, being intercepted by the Moon (about 390 km from the Earth’s surface). After orbital insertion, KPLO thrusters will only be used to circle orbit, stabilizing it at an altitude of approximately 100 km from the lunar surface Kari/Disclosure The South Korean KPLO spacecraft will first placed on its way to the Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun, about 1.5 million km away. From there, the vehicle will “fall back” to Earth, being intercepted by the Moon (about 390 km from the Earth’s surface).

South Korea’s estimated $180 million moon mission began in 2016 and was originally scheduled to launch in 2020. Two years later, it left. And many more are coming in the months to come.

Transit to the Moon The new lunar wave tentatively kicked off in 2022 with the launch of NASA’s Capstone satellite by a small Electron rocket in June. It is a small spacecraft destined for orbit in which the American space agency intends to place a future lunar orbital station called Gateway.

NASA’s big lunar launch, however, is scheduled for later this month. On August 29, if all goes well, the Artemis I mission, the first test of the SLS rocket with the Orion capsule on a trip to the Moon, should leave. The vehicle will not be equipped for this maiden flight, but it will be the first time that a spacecraft intended for the transport of humans will leave for the Moon since Apollo 17, in 1972. The flight will also take small satellites near the Moon, cubesats provided by the United States, Italy and Japan.

Then, which promises to resume its lunar missions after a long interlude, it is Russia. The flight of the Luna-25 probe, which picks up the numbering from the Soviet lunar mission program, should depart at the end of September – if that happens. There are doubts after the start of the war with Ukraine.

Japanese company ispace aims to launch its lunar lander for the first time in November. If it flies, it will carry a small rover from the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, two US companies, Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, intend to launch their own landers on inaugural demonstration missions. One of the payloads is the Mexican Colmena microrover.

For 2023, in addition to the commercial missions, Isro, the Indian space agency, is set to launch its third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, and Jaxa, the Japanese space agency, is also in line with its Slim lander. Neighboring China, meanwhile, is planning two more lunar missions, Chang’e-6 and 7, for 2024. Even if only a few of these missions take place on schedule, transit from here to the Moon is expected be well bottled as of now.

Missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023 Capstone (USA/NASA)

Released: June 28, 2022

Microsatellite for orbital test

KPLO (South Korea/Kari)

Released: August 4, 2022

lunar exploration orbiter

Artemis I (USA/NASA)

Released: August 29, 2022

Testing the uncrewed Orion spacecraft

Luna-25 (Russia/Roscosmos)

Release: end of September 2022

First Russian lunar lander since 1976

Hakuto-R M1 (Japan/ispace company)

Release: not before November 2022

Demonstration of a commercial lander

IM-1 (American company/Intuitive Machines)

Released: December 22, 2022

Demonstration of a commercial lander

Mission 1 (USA/Astrobotic)

Exit: not before the end of 2022

Demonstration of a commercial lander

Chandrayaan-3 (India/Isro)

Released: 2023

Orbiter and lander; second Indian attempt to land on the moon

Thin (Japan/Jaxa)

Released: 2023

Japanese Precision Landing Module

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