South Korea's lunar orbiter launches and phones home happily
Moon probe will play BTS to test space internet. Also for fun
South Korea's first lunar orbiter, which is about to test disruption-tolerant, network-based space communications, successfully made contact with its Australian ground station after launching on Thursday.
According to South Korea's Ministry of Science, Technology, Information and Communications, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter's (KPLO) planned tests are a world first.
The orbiter carries the equipment for exploring Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN), which addresses latency caused by long distances and other factors that can make network resources unavailable for significant periods of time. DTN adds a type of store-and-forward tech called "bundle protocol" to the networking stack, so that when latency or interruptions occur, the system advises network resources that packets are still being transmitted but have been delayed and will arrive as soon as possible.
One of the items reportedly chosen to test in the network is K-Pop sensation BTS's song Dynamite, which features the following lyric:
'cause I, I, I'm in the stars tonight. So watch me bring the fire and set the night alight.
Which seems quite appropriate under the circumstances.
The KPLO, also called Danuri – a portmanteau of the Korean words for "Moon" and "enjoy" – was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida via Space X Falcon 9 rocket on August 4.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/dAQGvpcOCX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 4, 2022
Forty minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket's second stage and headed toward the Moon for a scheduled mid-December rendezvous.
The craft's counterintuitive route takes it towards the sun before looping back to be caught in a lunar orbit. This ballistic lunar transfer uses gravity to save energy for the main event: a year spent observing the Moon from a 62 mile (100km) altitude.
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Danuri packs a magnetometer, a gamma-ray spectrometer, and three cameras. The craft's mission is to study the Moon's magnetic field, measure elements and molecules like iron, titanium, silicon, uranium, water and helium-3, and image the surface. Surveying landing spots for future probes is also on the agenda, as is photographing the poles' icy craters.
If elements like oxygen and hydrogen can be found in lunar ice, some scientists hope there's potential to one day extract them for human use – such as occupying the Moon's recently discovered 63°F/17°C "cool pits" that are thought to offer temperatures most would find comfortable down here on Terra.
The mission took seven years to build, and is in no way a world first. A successful Danuri mission makes South Korea the seventh country to have launched an uncrewed lunar probe. However, South Korea's space program had a lot of catching up to do after it was delayed by a 1979 Cold War-era agreement that limited the country's ability to develop and test ballistic missiles until 2020.
And catch up it has. In June the country launched its first domestically made rocket, Nuri, after difficulty getting payload stabilized after separation. With a Korean-made probe, ground communications in Australia and a SpaceX launch in the US, the mission is truly a global affair that some are celebrating.
NASA has played a part by designing one of Danuri's three onboard cameras: the ShadowCam a super sensitive device for making out images from the Moon's permanently dark spots.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) first discussed a collab in 2015, and formally agreed to a partnership to carry the camera in late 2016. NASA also helped with the orbit design. Also the KPLO Deep-Space Ground System (KDGS) – which is responsible for the overall flight dynamics-related operation – will utilize NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to chat with Danuri. ®