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SpaceX will launch the Korean moon mission on Thursday evening – Spaceflight Now

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with the Korea Lunar Pathfinder Orbiter mission. follow us on Twitter.

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South Korea’s first mission to the moon is set to launch at 7:08 p.m. EDT (2308 GMT) Thursday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch will be the second of the day from the Space Coast of Florida, marking the shortest time between launches at Cape Canaveral since 1967.

Falcon 9 is ready to lift off from Space Launch Complex 4 at Cape Canaveral with the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, a 1,495-pound (678-kilogram) spacecraft the size of a large refrigerator that will collect lunar geology data and will search for evidence of water ice hidden in craters at the moon’s poles.

The rocket’s first stage will land on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone stationed in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.

Thursday evening’s Falcon 9 rocket launch will come 12 hours and 39 minutes after a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off with a US military missile warning satellite at 6:29 a.m. EDT (1029 GMT) from the pad 41, located about a mile and a half (2.5 kilometers) north of SpaceX’s launch complex.

The last time there was such a short interval between two orbital-class rockets launching from Cape Canaveral was on September 7-8, 1967, when a Thor Delta rocket and an Atlas Centaur rocket were launched at less than 10 hour intervals. The Thor Delta rocket launched a recoverable spacecraft called Biosatellite 2 with a host of biological research experiments, and the Atlas Centaur sent NASA’s Surveyor 5 lander to the moon.

A moon mission also makes up the second half of Thursday’s doubleheader.

The KPLO mission is a scout, or precursor, for South Korea’s future space exploration ambitions, which include a robotic Moon landing in the early 2030s. South Korea has also signed on to join the NASA-led Artemis Accords and could contribute to the US space agency’s human lunar exploration program.

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

“The basic idea of ​​this mission is technology development and demonstration,” said Eunhyeuk Kim, mission project scientist from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. “Furthermore, by using the scientific instruments, we hope to obtain 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, as well as new communication, control and navigation capabilities, including validation of an “interplanetary internet” connection using a disturbance-tolerant network.

The Korea Lunar Pathfinder Orbiter is encapsulated inside the payload fairing of the Falcon 9 rocket, shown here with mission logos. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The scientific objectives of the mission include mapping the lunar surface to help select future landing sites, studying resources such as water ice on the moon, and exploring the radiation environment near from the moon.

The mission cost around $180 million to develop. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the KPLO spacecraft to the moon on a low-power, fuel-efficient ballistic lunar transfer trajectory, a pathway pioneered by NASA’s small CAPSTONE spacecraft, a technology demonstration mission launched in June on a Rocket Lab mission and is expected to orbit the Moon in November.

Instead of reaching the moon in days, like NASA’s Apollo missions, KPLO will take about four months to complete the journey.

If KPLO launches into its current launch period, its moon landing date is set for December 16. The Falcon 9 will launch the spacecraft on a trajectory that will take it close to the Lagrange point L1, a gravitationally stable location nearly one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from the daytime side of Earth, about four times farther than the moon.

Gravitational forces will naturally pull the spacecraft back to 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 steer KPLO into a low-altitude circular orbit of approximately 60 miles. (100 kilometers) from the lunar surface to New Year’s Eve.

After a month of commissioning and testing, the spacecraft’s year-long primary science mission is scheduled to begin around February 1. If the orbiter has enough fuel, mission officials could consider an extended mission from 2024, Kim said.

Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 34th Falcon 9 flight of the year. If successful, the KPLO launch will also be the 32nd space mission of the year from Cape Canaveral to fly into orbit or to more distant destinations.

The Korea Lunar Pathfinder Orbiter spacecraft during final testing in South Korea. 1 credit

Stationed in a firing suite at a launch control center in Cape Canaveral, the SpaceX launch team will begin loading super-chilled and densified kerosene and liquid oxygen boosters into the 229-foot Falcon 9 vehicle. high (70 meters) at T-minus 35 minutes.

The pressurizing helium will also flow into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. During the last seven minutes before liftoff, Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “cooling down”. Falcon 9’s range guidance and safety systems will also be configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will direct its 1.7 million pounds of thrust – produced by nine Merlin engines – to head east over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about a minute, then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage will exit from the Falcon 9 upper stage, then fire pulses from cold gas drive thrusters and extend titanium grid fins to help bring the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two brake burns slowed the rocket to land on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship about 400 miles (640 kilometers) some nine minutes after liftoff.

The flying booster on the KPLO mission, known as B1052, will launch on its sixth trip to space. It debuted as a side booster on two SpaceX Falcon Heavy missions in 2019, then teams converted it to fly as a Falcon 9 rocket.

As the first stage returns to Earth for landing, Falcon 9’s upper stage will fire its single Merlin engine twice, first for six minutes to reach a parking orbit, then again at T+plus 34 minutes for a burning 60 seconds to send the KPLO spacecraft on its way to the moon.

Separation from the KPLO spacecraft is scheduled at T+plus 40 minutes, 16 seconds. The probe will extend its solar arrays and begin transmitting to ground controllers within about 20 minutes of Falcon 9 deployment, according to KARI.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1052.6)

PAYLOAD: Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

RELEASE DATE: August 4, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 19:08:48 EDT (2308:48 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 80% chance of acceptable time; Low risk of high winds; Low risk of adverse conditions for booster recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship east of Cape Canaveral


TARGET ORBIT: Lunar Transfer Ballistic Trajectory


  • T+00:00: Takeoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum air pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:31: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
  • T+02:34: Floor separation
  • T+02:42: Second stage motor start (SES 1)
  • T+03:15: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:49: First stage inlet combustion ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:19: First floor inlet burn shutdown
  • T+08:33: Second stage motor shutdown (SECO 1)
  • T+09:01: First stage landing
  • T+34:15: Second stage motor start (SES 2)
  • T+35:15: Second stage motor shutdown (SECO 2)
  • T+40:16: KPLO spacecraft separation


  • 168th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 176th launch of the Falcon family of rockets since 2006
  • 6th launch of the Falcon 9 booster B1052
  • Launch of the 145th Falcon 9 from the Space Coast of Florida
  • Launch of the 93rd Falcon 9 from pad 40
  • 148th total launch from pad 40
  • 110th flight of a repurposed Falcon 9 booster
  • 3rd dedicated SpaceX launch for a South Korean customer
  • 2nd SpaceX launch with lunar payload
  • Launch of the 34th Falcon 9 in 2022
  • SpaceX’s 34th launch in 2022
  • 34th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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