Danuri readied for lunar mission, and BTS 'Dynamite' transmission
DAEJEON — Korea is set to launch a spacecraft into orbit around the moon. And there is actually a BTS angle to the mission.
The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), the country's first moon orbiter, is set for launch in early August from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will be carried into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
"There have been a lot of questions like, 'what's the point of doing this now when a crewed moon landing already happened in 1969?'" said Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) Director Lee Sang-ryul during a press conference held at the institute's headquarters in Daejeon, Friday.
"The simplest answer is, I would say, that this marks our first step toward space exploration," Lee said.
The KPLO mission will be the country's first big step into space — and that is what matters, Lee noted. The KPLO program was established in 2016. Funds committed to the project over the last six years total 236.7 billion won ($189.1 million).
The launch date will be Aug. 2, weather permitting. If the KPLO satellite, named Danuri, successfully completes its mission, KARI will be the seventh space agency to put a satellite into orbit around the moon, following those of Russia, the United States, Japan, the European Union, China and India.
The satellite is scheduled to arrive at the moon on Dec. 16, and it will circle the moon for about a year at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62.1 miles), taking pictures of the lunar surface and testing interplanetary internet communications.
NASA also took part in the program, supporting deep-space communication and navigation of the KPLO satellite. KARI, in turn, agreed to put NASA's ShadowCam high-resolution camera on the satellite so that NASA will be able to collect image data on permanent shadow regions of the moon.
"We have to admit that there is a technological gap between Korea and the frontrunners," said Kim Dae-kwan, senior researcher at KARI, "and the best way to close the gap is to collaborate with them."
The KPLO program will serve as the cornerstone for further international collaborations with NASA, according to KARI.
"We collaborated with NASA in building the actual hardware, which is a first," Lee said, "and if we are able to further establish trust with NASA, we believe there will be more opportunities to participate in bigger and more challenging projects in the future."
There will be a total of six payloads on the KPLO satellite, including ShadowCam from NASA and five others developed by local research institutions and universities.
The Korea Astronomy & Space Science Institute's wide-angle polarized camera will be used to analyze lunar surface particles. The Korea Institute of Geoscience & Mineral Resources developed a device to measure the gamma-ray spectrum for lunar resource exploration, while a magnetometer developed by Kyung Hee University will measure the intensity of the magnetic field. A KARI-developed high-resolution camera, the Lunar Terrain Imager, will be onboard as well, with the aim of collecting high-resolution images of lunar surfaces for Korea's moon landing program in future.
The KPLO will be carrying a delay tolerant network (DTN) experiment payload developed by Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI). DTN technology allows for communications in environments where signals may not be continuous or stable. It is seen as the basic architecture for internet in space.
"Dynamite" (2020), by BTS, may be sent from lunar orbit to earth using the technology.
At KARI's Daejeon headquarters, the KPLO awaits transfer to Florida for launch.
Roughly a 2-meter cube, the orbiter resembles a giant industrial washing machine with solar panels folded on two sides. The spacecraft is mostly black — due to a covering of anti-static ketone foil — with the cylindrical, copper-colored ShadowCam attached to the top of the main body.
To be precise, it measures 2.2 meters by 2.1 meters by 1.8 meters. With its solar panels unfolded in full operation, it will measure about 6.3 meters in length, 3.2 meters in width, and 2.7 meters in height, according to KARI.
It is considerably lighter than most other lunar orbiters, at 678 kilograms. As the fuel weighs about 260 kilograms, the body alone weighs 418 kilograms, explained KARI. Japan's Selene orbiter weighed 1,984 kilograms, China's Chang'e weighed about 1,150 kilograms, and India's Chandrayaan orbiters weighed 560 and 682 kilograms.
At the control center, in a massive room of screens and workstations with a high-tech, start-up feel, KARI employees will be overseeing the mission. About 60 employees will be present at the control center, collecting real-time data, monitoring the network connection and revising the route and trajectory when the need arises, according to KARI.
At the front of the room on a giant screen, a 3D image of the moon is displayed.
NASA's deep space network antennas in Madrid, Spain, Goldstone, California, and Canberra, Australia will be used as well as Korea's own deep space antenna in Yeoju, Gyeonggi.
After the launch in Florida, the KPLO satellite will be heading toward the moon by using the ballistic lunar transfer method, which minimizes fuel consumption compared to other methods, such as the direct transfer method, by flying 1.6 million kilometers toward the Sun before coming back to the moon using the gravitational pull of other planets.
The next step will be moon landing.
The KPLO program is the first phase of Korea's space development promotion plan set in 2018. It begins with the lunar orbiter, is followed by a lunar lander in the 2030s and then involves a deep space exploration.
Korea joined the Artemis Project in May 2021, which aims to send humans to the moon by 2025 and establish a lunar base by 2028.
BY SHIN HA-NEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]