Follow the first SpaceX launch to the Moon live

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Image: SpaceX

South Korea is embarking on its first lunar mission, and has enlisted the help of SpaceX to get it done. You can watch this historic release live right here.

It’s hard to believe, but the launch marks the first time SpaceX will directly send a payload into a ballistic lunar transfer orbit. And as for South Korea, its first mission to the Moon, adding (fingers crossed) to a very small list of nations.

The payload of the day is the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), also known as Danuri, on a mission managed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at 23:08 UTC from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Live coverage will begin 15 minutes before launch, which you can view on the website of SpaceX or on the YouTube live below:

KPLO Mission

To be fair, SpaceX has sent an object to the Moon before: Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander (which it crashed on the lunar surface in 2019), but did so as part of a routine Falcon 9 share mission to geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth. Once in space, Beresheet used her own power to gradually raise your altitude, eventually entering lunar orbit (and the failure of the mission had nothing to do with SpaceX). In addition, the private company has previously sent objects to the depths of the solar systemincluding a red tesla roadsterbut I have never sent anything directly to our beloved Luna before.

That will change today. SpaceX reports an 80% chance of favorable weather. In case the launch needs to be cancelled, the company will try again tomorrow at 23:00 UTC.

After separation, the first stage of the rocket will attempt to land on the autonomous barge Just Read the Instructions, currently stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. This particular booster has already made several successful landings. Once in space and approximately 34 minutes into the mission, the second stage will perform a restart and the engine will shut down when the mission clock reaches 35:15. Danuri will unfold and begin his journey to the Moon five minutes later.

Image for the article titled Follow the first SpaceX launch to the Moon live

Image: KAVI

The 500-kilogram probe will enter a lunar polar orbit in mid-December, where it will operate 100 kilometers above the surface for at least a year. If the mission is extended, KPLO will drop to a 70km orbit above the Moon. A publication Teslarati explains why it will take so long for Danuri to reach its target orbit:

Instead of launching the satellite as a rideshare payload into an Earth orbit, KPLO will be the only spacecraft aboard the Falcon 9, and the SpaceX rocket will send directly to the orbiter on a type of translunar injection (TLI) trajectory known as Lunar Ballistic Transfer (BLT). A BLT is much slower than some alternative TLI trajectories, but it trades speed for exceptional efficiency, making it easier to launch for Falcon 9 and ultimately giving the orbiter more useful time around the Moon by requiring less propellant to enter orbit.

The primary objectives of the mission are to “develop native lunar exploration technologies, demonstrate a ‘space internet,’ and conduct scientific investigations of the lunar environment, topography, and resources, as well as identify potential landing sites for future missions,” according to POT. The space agency provided a high-sensitivity camera for the mission, and South Korea developed four other instruments: a lunar terrain imager, a wide-angle polarimetric camera (called PolCam), a magnetometer and a gamma-ray spectrometer. Combined, these five devices weigh no more than 40kg.

A contingent of NASA-sponsored scientists will participate in the analysis of incoming data from the mission. Using PolCam, scientists at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, will study lunar pyroclastic deposits, ash deposits that formed long ago from violent volcanic eruptions. “Such ash deposits may come from deep within the lunar interior and may contain volatile materials, including water,” according to an emailed SSI statement. “Therefore, they have the potential to provide insights into the nature of the lunar interior and represent a potential resource for future human use of lunar resources.”

We wish South Korea the best of luck on this important mission, as another nation seeks to establish a presence around the Moon.

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