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First South Korean spacecraft launched towards the Moon

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South Korea joined the stampede to the moon on Thursday with the launch of a lunar orbiter that will search for future landing sites.

The SpaceX-launched satellite will travel a long, roundabout path to conserve fuel, arriving at its destination in December.

If successful, it will join US and Indian spacecraft already operating around the moon, as well as a Chinese probe exploring the moon’s dark side.

India, Russia and Japan will launch lunar missions later this year or next, as will a number of private companies from the United States and other nations. In addition, NASA will present its giant lunar rocket at the end of August.

The South Korean mission, the country’s first step in lunar exploration at a cost of $180 million, features a solar-powered satellite designed to orbit just 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the lunar surface. Scientists expect it to collect geological and other data for at least a year from its low polar orbit.

It is the second South Korean space attempt in a span of six weeks.

In June, South Korea successfully launched a six-satellite package into orbit from Earth, using its own rocket for the first time. A first attempt late last year failed after the test satellite failed 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 later this month for the first launch of its Artemis program. The goal is to send an unmanned capsule around the Moon and back to test systems before making a manned launch in two years.

The Danuri—Korean for “enjoy the moon”—carries six scientific instruments, including a camera for NASA. This one is designed to take a look at the ice-filled craters that always remain in the shadows at the lunar poles. The space agency prefers the lunar south pole to establish future astronaut outposts because there is evidence of the presence of frozen water.

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