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South Korea’s first lunar orbiter launched by SpaceX


People in a railway station in Seoul watch a television screen showing a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching with South Korea’s first lunar orbiter Danuri onboard from Cape Canaveral in Florida

South Korea’s first lunar orbiter successfully launched on a year-long mission to observe the Moon, Seoul said Friday, with the payload including a new disruption-tolerant network for sending data from space.

Danuri — a portmanteau of the Korean words for “Moon” and “enjoy” — was on a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida by Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX. It aims to reach the Moon by mid-December.

“Danuri will be the first step towards the Moon and the farther universe,” it said, apparently referring to the country’s ambitious space program, which includes plans for a Moon mission by 2030.

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“Deployment of KPLO confirmed,” it said, referring to Danuri using an acronym of its official name, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

One of the instruments will evaluate disruption-tolerant, network-based space communications, which, according to South Korea’s science ministry, is a world first.

Danuri will also try to develop a wireless Internet environment to link satellites or exploration spacecraft, they added.

Another instrument, ShadowCam, will record images of the permanently shaded regions around the poles of the Moon where no sunlight can reach.

“This is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” said Lee Sang-ryool, head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, in a video shown before the launch.

South Korean scientists say Danuri — which took seven years to build — will pave the way for the nation’s more ambitious goal of landing on the Moon by 2030.

“We hope to continue contributing to the global understanding of the Moon with what Danuri is set to find out.”

Danuri was launched by a private company — SpaceX — but South Korea recently became one of a handful of countries to successfully launch a one-tonne payload using their own rockets.

That launch — coupled with Danuri’s launch Friday — helps bring South Korea ever closer to achieving its space ambitions.

Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogram (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Washington condemned as a disguised missile test.

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