Danuri: South Korea’s Lunar Probe Halfway through Primary Mission with High-Resolution Images of Moon’s Surface

Danuri, South Korea’s first lunar probe, is almost halfway through its primary mission. The probe was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaverel, Florida, and 4 months later, in December of last year, Danuri settled into orbit around the Moon. Since then, he has been carefully collecting data and taking pictures of the moon’s surface, which is dotted with countless craters. The Danuri probe orbits approximately 100 kilometers above the surface of the Moon and the data it sends back to Earth is analyzed by a team of experts. Thanks to the Danuri probe (sometimes you can meet the older name KPLO – Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter), South Korea became only the eighth country or space agency to send its equipment into lunar orbit.

On March 22, 2023, the Danuri probe photographed this central peak in Tsiolkovsky Crater on the far side of the Moon.

The Korean lunar probe is equipped with six science instruments and technology demonstrators. The on-board sensor LUTI (Lunar Terrain Imager) is responsible for the successful images of the surface of the Moon, including the most recent ones, boasted by the South Korean agency KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute). Black and white photos released a few days ago show several locations on the far side of the moon. One of the photographed areas is the vicinity of the central peak in the Tsiolkovsky crater. This depression with a diameter of 185 kilometers was created by the impact of a cosmic body more than 3.5 billion years ago. The peak itself rises more than 3,400 meters above the crater floor.

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In the images from Danuri, we can clearly see the details of the features of the lunar surface, such as the high projections in the craters,” says the KARI agency in its statement, adding: “Such high-resolution images can be used as important data for understanding the composition of the lunar surface and the processes that form these crater peaks.But the Danuri probe also took photos of Vallis Schrödinger and the Szilard crater, which we would also find on the far side of the Moon. The name of the probe comes from the Korean words “dal” and “nurida”, the combination of which can be translated as “enjoy the moon”. The probe’s scientific tasks relate to mapping the lunar surface in order to identify suitable future landing sites, but also to explore resources such as water ice. In addition, the probe also analyzes the radiation environment around the Moon.

On March 24, 2023, the Danuri probe took this image of the Vallis Schrödinger region on the far side of the Moon.

On March 24, 2023, the Danuri probe took this image of Vallis Schrödinger on the far side of the Moon.

According to the KARI agency, the price for the development, construction and launch of the probe is around 180 million US dollars. The probe is being built for a year-long primary mission, which officially began this January. The full science results of the mission are due to be presented in January 2024. However, if the probe has enough propellant in its tanks, mission managers could consider a superstructure phase that would begin next year. One of the instruments on board the Danuri probe is the American ShadowCam instrument. It is structurally based on the main camera of the American probe LRO, and its task is to look into the dark craters at the lunar poles, where earlier missions recorded the presence of deposits of water ice. ShadowCam is two orders of magnitude more sensitive than the camera on LRO, making it possible to capture high-resolution images of shadowed craters illuminated only by weak reflected light with a good signal-to-noise ratio. We brought you images from the ShadowCam camera in this article.

On March 24, 2023, the Danuri probe took this picture of the Szilard crater on the far side of the Moon.

On March 24, 2023, the Danuri probe took this picture of the Szilard crater on the far side of the Moon.

In addition to the LUTI device (Lunar Terrain Imager), which we mentioned at the beginning and the ShadowCam camera, which we dedicated to the previous lines, the Danuri probe also carries a polarimetric camera with a wide field of view (to measure the magnetic field around the Moon), a gamma spectrometer (to study the chemical composition lunar surface) and technology demonstrator of the principles of a future “interplanetary Internet” connection using an interference-resistant network. In the original name of the KPLO probe, we find the word pathfinder, which tells us that this mission is supposed to pave the way for future South Korean missions that will be even more ambitious. In the plans we find, for example, an unmanned lunar lander, which could come in the early 30s. South Korea also acceded to the Artemis Accords, which it established NASA and can therefore participate in the American program of manned lunar exploration.

On December 24, 2022, the Danuri probe took this image of Earth rising above the surface of the Moon.

On December 24, 2022, the Danuri probe took this image of Earth rising above the surface of the Moon.

The mission of the Danuri probe is part of the current wave of growing interest in the closest cosmic guide to Earth. In April, the Japanese company ispace’s attempt to land the lunar lander Hakuto-R failed. Just a few weeks later, NASA abandoned efforts to put the small Lunar Flashlight probe into a scientifically useful orbit, as the CubeSat encountered problems with its propulsion system. Thus, the small probe could not fulfill its scientific task, in which it was supposed to search for deposits of water in the craters near the south pole of the Moon. Another relatively low-cost mission, the US CubeSat CAPSTONE entered lunar orbit last November and has since been demonstrating navigation and communication technologies for future Artemis missions. A few weeks ago, NASA said that CAPSTONE had completed the experimental tasks of its primary mission, but that it would still continue to operate to conduct additional tests as part of the extended phase.

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Last year, the US Artemis I mission guided the unmanned Orion spacecraft into orbit around the moon, which then returned safely to Earth, paving the way for the manned Artemis II mission. It could send the first crew to the moon since 1972 at the end of next year at the earliest. And other missions are also planned – for example, the Russian probe Luna 25, which should go to the moon this summer, on which it will try to land. In the United States, the companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are working on landers that should transport scientific experiments from NASA to the surface of the moon in the coming months. The Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines missions are the first to be implemented under the US Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, under which NASA purchases services from private companies in the form of transporting scientific experiments and technology demonstrators to the lunar surface.

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2023-06-02 22:15:32
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