South Korea to Send Its First Mission to the Moon

The unmanned spacecraft will launch next week and begin to orbit the moon in mid-December

The spacecraft will study the moon for at least a year. Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

On Tuesday, August 2, a South Korean spacecraft carrying scientific instruments will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and begin charting a course to the moon.

The spacecraft is expected to arrive at its destination in mid-December and enter an orbit about 100 kilometers above the lunar surface, where its instruments will study the moon for at least a year, reports ScienceInsider’s Dennis Normile.

The probe is expected to measure the magnetic force above the moon’s surface, search for the presence of water ice, uranium, helium-3, silicon and aluminum, and map the surface topography to find landing spots for future missions, writes’s Leonard David. The spacecraft carries “a cadre of instruments that will yield important information about the Moon,” Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame who is not involved in the mission, tells ScienceInsider.

South Korea will become just one of a handful of countries to have sent a mission to the moon. “Everybody is so happy and excited,” Kyeong-ja Kim, a planetary geoscientist at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources in Daejeon, and principal investigator for one of the craft’s instruments, tells Nature News Smriti Mallapaty.

“It’s just so cool to see more and more countries sending up their own orbiters and adding to the global understanding of what’s going on on the moon,” Rachel Klima, a planetary geologist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is part of the research team, tells Nature News.

The craft’s Wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam) will contribute to estimates for when surface impacts and geological processes took place by gauging the angles at which light bounces off lunar surface particles, a measurement process called polarimetry. The polarimetry reveals the size of the particles to scientists, which in turn indicates how long a particular crater or surface feature has existed, per ScienceInsider.

“We were surprised to learn that no previous mission has done lunar polarimetry from a lunar orbit,” Chae Kyung Sim, a planetary scientist at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute and a member of the project’s principal investigator’s team, tells ScienceInsider.

“It’s a ground-breaking instrument,” William Farrand, a planetary geologist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, tells Nature News. Farrand will be studying the data and hopes the probe’s measurements of volcanic ash can help scientists learn about lunar volcanic eruptions.

Some parts of the moon don’t receive any sunlight, which of course makes them challenging to image. ShadowCam, the one NASA instrument on the mission, will search for evidence of water ice at the moon’s poles and determine how future rovers might traverse craters and depressions on the surface, per

“ShadowCam will peer into the moon’s deeply shadowed areas to provide the first ever high-resolution look into lunar permanently shadowed regions,” Prasun Mahanti, deputy principal investigator for ShadowCam at Arizona State University in Tempe, tells

“There’s a treasure trove of solar system data locked away in the layers of the permanently shadowed craters,” Klima tells ScienceInsider.

The craft’s instruments will also measure magnetism at the moon’s surface. The moon’s core once generated a magnetic field almost as strong as the Earth’s, and scientists hope to use the magnetism data to understand how it could have done so, per Nature News.

South Korea aims to land a spacecraft on the moon by 2030, according to Nature News. And more missions from other countries are soon to come. The United States, Japan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates all have at least one moon mission scheduled to launch before the year’s end, per ScienceInsider.

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