At the earliest (NET) 7:08 p.m. EDT (23:08 UTC) on August 4, a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from pad LC-40 at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in the framework of the company’s 34th anniversary. 2022 launch.
Carrying Korea’s Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) spacecraft, the mission will be SpaceX’s first direct launch to the Moon and could also make South Korea one of the few countries to have successfully entered orbit around a planetary body other than Earth.
SpaceX has assigned the former Falcon Heavy booster B1052 to its first launch to the Moon. After debuting in April 2019 and supporting another Falcon Heavy launch in June, the former ‘side booster’ has been idle for almost 1,000 days as virtually all payloads contracted to launch on the operational rocket la more powerful have suffered months or even years of delays. Eventually, SpaceX gave up the wait and converted the vehicle into a Falcon 9 booster, and Falcon 9 B1052 debuted on January 31, 2022. KPLO will be its sixth total launch and fourth mission as a Falcon 9.
Technically, KPLO won’t be the first payload SpaceX has helped launch to the Moon. That accolade is held by Israel’s Beresheet Moon lander, which was launched as a rideshare payload on an otherwise ordinary Falcon 9 geostationary communications satellite mission in 2019. The spacecraft’s landing failed, but it entered a stable orbit around the Moon before things went wrong.
Instead of launching the satellite as a rideshare payload to Earth orbit, KPLO (also known as Danuri) will be the only spacecraft aboard Falcon 9, and the SpaceX rocket will send the orbiter directly on a type of trans-lunar injection (TLI) trajectory known as a ballistic lunar transfer. A BLT is much slower than some alternative TLI trajectories, but it trades speed for exceptional efficiency, making it easier to launch Falcon 9 and ultimately giving the orbiter more useful time around the Moon by requiring less propellant to enter. in orbit.
If all goes as planned, KPLO – weighing around 678 kilograms (~1,500 lbs) at liftoff – will perform several course-correction burns and eventually enter orbit around the Moon in mid-December. Equipped with multiple cameras, a networking experiment, and a few scientific instruments, the spacecraft’s main purpose is to search for a flat, debris-free area for a future Korean lunar lander.
This unnamed follow-on mission will be even more national, as South Korea intends to launch it with its own Nuri rocket. After narrowly missing out on success on its first orbital launch attempt in October 2021, Nuri managed to reach orbit on its second launch attempt in June 2022.
KPLO is one of up to six launches scheduled worldwide on August 4, including two Chinese missions, a ULA launch off the US East Coast, a Rocket Lab mission from New Zealand, and Blue Origin’s latest suborbital sightseeing launch. Unless there is a delay, KPLO will be the last launch of the day. The official SpaceX webcast will likely begin around 6:55 p.m. EDT (22:50 UTC).
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