South Korean spacecraft refuels for ride to Moon from Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now

The Korea Lunar Pathfinder orbiter spacecraft is undergoing testing in South Korea before shipment to Florida to prepare for launch. credit: kari

A South Korean spacecraft set for launch to the Moon next week from Cape Canaveral has been loaded with fuel needed to take images and maneuver into low-altitude lunar orbit for scientific observations.

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, or KPLO, spacecraft is set to launch next Thursday, Aug. 4 at 7:08 p.m. EDT (2308 GMT) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Mission managers said earlier this week the launch was delayed by two days to give SpaceX time to complete additional work on the Falcon 9 rocket.

Technicians and engineers working inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility recently completed the Korean lunar probe following the spacecraft’s delivery from South Korea to Cape Canaveral on July 6.

The spacecraft was refueled with hydrazine fuel inside the SpaceX clean room. South Korean engineers who traveled to the launch base with the KPLO spacecraft also completed final tests on the probe, South Korea’s first mission to the Moon and first venture into deep space exploration.

The 1,495-pound (678-kg) spacecraft was expected to be contained inside the payload fairing of the Falcon 9 rocket after refueling. Aeroshell will protect the spacecraft during the final stages of launch preparation and only during the first few minutes of launch.

SpaceX will then transport the payload module to the Falcon 9 rocket’s hangar a few miles from the processing facility, where the ground team will attach the spacecraft to the Falcon 9’s upper stage, inside the rocket’s nose cone.

The entire rocket will then roll over and be raised vertically at Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral. The KPLO mission is one of two launches scheduled next Thursday at the Florida Spaceport. A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket with a US military satellite is set to lift off about 12-and-a-half hours before a Falcon 9 rocket on the KPLO mission.

Part of the purpose of the KPLO mission is named after it. The mission is a pathfinder or precursor to South Korea’s future ambitions in space exploration, which include a robotic landing on the Moon in the early 2030s. South Korea has also signed up to join the NASA-led Artemis agreement, and may contribute to the US space agency’s human lunar exploration program.

The KPLO mission is also called Danuri, a combination of the words “dal” and “nurida” in Korean, meaning “enjoy the moon.”

“The core idea of ‚Äč‚Äčthis mission is technological development and demonstration,” said Eunhyuk Kim of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. “Also, by using science instruments, we’re hoping to get some useful data on the lunar surface.”

The mission carries six science instruments and technology demonstration payloads.

KPLO will test a new South Korean spacecraft platform designed for deep space operations with new communications, control and navigation capabilities, including verification of an “interplanetary Internet” connection using an interference tolerant network.

Scientific objectives of the mission include mapping the lunar surface to help select future landing sites, surveying resources such as water ice on the Moon, and examining the radiation environment near the Moon.

The $180 million (233.3 billion won) mission will launch toward the Moon on a low-energy, fuel-efficient ballistic lunar transfer trajectory, the path pioneered by NASA’s small Capstone spacecraft, a tech demo mission launched last month aboard Rocket Lab. The mission is scheduled to slip into orbit around the Moon in November.

If KPLO launches in the first week of August, the date for its arrival on the Moon is set for December 16. The Falcon 9 will take the spacecraft on a trajectory that will bring it closer to the L1 Lagrange point, a gravitationally-stable location approximately one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth’s daytime, about four times as far from the Moon.

Gravitational forces will naturally pull the spacecraft back toward Earth and the Moon, where the Korean probe will be captured in orbit on December 16. A series of propulsive maneuvers with the spacecraft’s thrusters will propel KPLO into a circular low-altitude orbit at a distance of about 60 miles. (100 km) from the lunar surface until New Year’s Eve.

The spacecraft’s year-long primary science mission should begin around February 1, after a month of commissioning and testing. If the orbiter has enough fuel, mission managers may consider an extended mission starting in 2024, Kim said.

A payload on the KPLO, or Danuri, mission is a US-built instrument named ShadowCam.

Derived from the main camera on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the ShadowCam will peek inside dark craters near the Moon’s poles where previous missions detected evidence of water ice deposits. The NASA-funded ShadowCam instrument is hundreds of times more sensitive than LRO’s camera, allowing it to collect high-resolution, high signal-to-noise imagery of the interiors of the always-dark crater using reflected light .

NASA is also providing tracking and communications support for the KPLO mission through its Deep Space Network antennas in California, Spain and Australia. Qari, the South Korean space agency, also has its own deep space communications antenna, but it does not offer continuous coverage of NASA’s worldwide network.

South Korea began developing the KPLO mission in 2016 for a planned launch in 2020, but officials delayed the mission because the spacecraft had grown above its original launch weight, and engineers were asked to complete detailed design work. more time was required.

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