Not before (NET) 7:08 p.m. EDT (23:08 UTC), August 4, the airline’s proven Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off from SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station LC-40 platform as part of the company’s 34th launch 2022.
Carrying the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) spacecraft, the mission will be SpaceX’s first direct launch to the Moon and could make South Korea one of the few countries to successfully enter orbit around a planetary body other than Earth.
SpaceX has appointed a former Falcon Heavy booster B1052 for the first moon launch. After first launching in April 2019 and backing up another Falcon Heavy launch in June, the former ‘side booster’ lay dormant for nearly 1,000 days as each payload contracted to launch the most powerful operational rocket took months or even years of delay. Eventually, SpaceX abandoned the wait and switched the car into a Falcon 9 booster, and the Falcon 9B1052 debuted on January 31, 2022. KPLO will be its sixth launch overall and fourth as the Falcon 9.
Technically, KPLO won’t be the first payload that SpaceX helped launch to the moon. That distinction is held by Israel’s Beresheet Moon probe, which launched a engagement payload aboard a Falcon 9 geostationary communications spacecraft in 2019. The spacecraft’s landing was unsuccessful, but it entered a stable orbit around the moon before things got worse.
Instead of launching the satellite as a transfer payload into Earth orbit, KPLO (also known as Danuri) will be the only spacecraft aboard the Falcon 9, and a SpaceX rocket will send the orbiter directly onto a type of Translunar Injection (TLI) path known as a lunar ballistic transfer. The BLT is much slower than some alternative TLI trajectories, but it trades speed for exceptional efficiency, making launch easier for the Falcon 9 and ultimately giving the orbiter more useful time around the moon by requiring less fuel to enter orbit.
If all goes as planned, KPLO – which weighs about 678 kg (~1,500 lb) on liftoff – will complete several course correction burns and eventually enter lunar orbit in mid-December. Equipped with several cameras, networking experiment, and a few scientific instruments, the spacecraft’s main purpose is to explore a debris-free area for a future Korean lunar lander.
The unnamed follow-up mission will be more domestic, as South Korea intends to launch it with its own Nouri missile. After failing to achieve success during his first orbit launch attempt in October 2021, Nouri successfully reached orbit during his second launch attempt in June 2022.
KPLO is one of the Up to six launches Around the world are planned for August 4, including two Chinese missions, the ULA launch on the US East Coast, the Rocket Lab mission from New Zealand, and Blue Origin’s latest sub-tropical tourist launch. Excluding delays, KPLO will be the last launch of the day. SpaceX’s official webcast will likely begin around 6:55 PM EST (22:50 UTC).
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