South Korea launches lunar orbiter to scout out future landing spots

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South Korea launches lunar orbiter to scout out future landing spots

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - South Korea joined the stampede to the moon Thursday with the launch of a lunar orbiter that will scout out future landing spots.

SpaceX launched a long, roundabout path to conserve fuel and will arrive in December.

If successful, it will join spacecraft from the U.S. and India already operating around the moon, and a Chinese rover exploring the moon's far side.

India, Russia and Japan have new moon missions that are due later this year or next, as do a slew of private companies in the U.S. and elsewhere. The mega moon rocket will be launched in August, and NASA will be up next with the debut of its mega moon rocket in late August.

South Korea's $180 million mission — the country's first step in lunar exploration — features a boxy, solar-powered satellite designed to skim just 62 miles 100 kilometers above the lunar surface. Scientists expect to collect geologic and other data for at least a year from this low polar orbit.

It is South Korea's second shot at space in six weeks.

In June, South Korea successfully launched a package of satellites into orbit around Earth for the first time using its own rocket. The first attempt to reach orbit last fall fizzled, with the test satellite failing to reach orbit.

In May, South Korea joined a NASA-led coalition to explore the moon with astronauts in the coming years and decades. NASA is targeting the end of the month for the first launch of its Artemis program. The goal is to send an empty crew capsule around the moon and back to test the systems before a crew climbs aboard in two years.

Danuri — Korean for the moon — is carrying six science instruments, including a camera for NASA. It's designed to peer into the permanently shadowed, ice-filled craters at the lunar poles. NASA favors the lunar south pole for future astronaut outposts because of the evidence of frozen water.

South Korea plans to land its own spacecraft on the moon by 2030 or so.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying Danuri took off from Cape Canaveral close to sunset. The first-stage booster, making its sixth flight, landed on an ocean platform several minutes later for further recycling.

It was the third spaceshot of the day from the U.S.

The United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket with an infrared missile-detection satellite for the U.S. Space Force at sunrise in Florida. Then Jeff Bezos Blue Origin sent six passengers on a quick ride to space from West Texas.

The company Rocket Lab launched a small classified satellite from New Zealand for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.