A live broadcast of the launch Friday morning in South Korea showed that the orbiter “Danuri” – which means “enjoy the moon” – has successfully split up. from the Falcon 9 rocket.
Developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the 678 kilogram (approximately 1,500 lb) aircraft has six payloads, including Korean-made equipment.
It is expected to enter lunar orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission in which it will search for possible landing sites for future missions, conduct scientific research on the lunar environment, and test space Internet technology, said the South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT in a statement.
If successful, South Korea will become the world’s seventh lunar explorer and fourth in Asia, behind China, Japan and India.
Friday’s launch comes as South Korea accelerates its burgeoning space program and seeks to send a probe to the moon by 2030.
Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces international sanctions for its nuclear ballistic missile program.
In March, North Korea asked to expand its space rocket launch site to advance its space ambitions, after South Korea and the United States accused it of testing a new ICBM with the pretext of launching a spacecraft.
South Korea claims that its space program is for peaceful and scientific purposes and any military use of the technology, such as in spy satellites, is for its defense.