SEOUL (NYTIMES) – South Korea set off for the moon on Thursday (Aug 4). But it doesn’t want to stop there.

“We are also considering using the moon as an outpost for space exploration,” Mr Kwon Hyun Joon, director-general of space and nuclear energy at South Korea’s Ministry of Science, said in a written response to questions.

“Although we hope to explore the moon itself, we also recognise its potential to act as a base for further deep space exploration such as Mars and beyond,” he said.

South Korea’s lunar spacecraft, named Danuri, was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, setting out on a roundabout but fuel-efficient path that would have it arriving at the moon in mid-December. There, it would begin an orbit at an altitude of 100km above the moon’s surface.

The main mission is scheduled to last for one year.

Originally known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, the mission was given the name Danuri after it became the winning entry in a naming contest. It is a portmanteau of the Korean words for “moon” and “enjoy.”

Mission’s goals

Danuri will join spacecraft from Nasa, India and China that are currently exploring Earth’s companion.

Much like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which launched towards Mars on a Japanese rocket in 2020, South Korea is the latest country with a small but ambitious space programme to set out on a beyond low-Earth orbit.

And also like the UAE’s Hope orbiter, the Danuri mission is intended to make meaningful scientific contributions to global efforts to explore and understand the solar system.

Mr Kwon said the main goal of the Danuri mission was to develop basic technologies like the design of orbital trajectories, deep space navigation, a high-thrust propulsion system and a 35m antenna to communicate with distant spacecraft.

But the spacecraft’s scientific payload is sophisticated and will aid scientists in South Korea and globally in studying the moon’s magnetic field, measuring its quantities of elements and molecules like uranium, water and helium-3 and photographing the dark craters at the lunar poles, where the sun never shines.

In addition to providing one of the instruments, called ShadowCam, Nasa chose nine scientists to participate on Danuri.