Scientists also hope that Danuri will find hidden sources of water and ice in areas of the Moon, including the permanently dark and cold regions near the poles. “This is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” said Lee Sang-ryool, head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, in a video shown before the launch. “Danuri is just the beginning, and if we are more determined and committed to technology development for space travel, we will be able to reach Mars, asteroids, and so on in the near future.”
South Korean scientists say Danuri -- which took seven years to build -- will pave the way for the nation’s more ambitious goal of landing on the Moon by 2030.
“South Korea will become the seventh country in the world to have launched an unmanned probe to the Moon,” an official at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told AFP.
“We hope to continue contributing to the global understanding of the Moon with what Danuri is set to find out.”
Danuri was launched by a private company -- SpaceX -- but South Korea recently became one of a handful of countries to successfully launch a one-tonne payload using their own rockets.
In June, the country’s homegrown three-stage rocket nicknamed Nuri -- a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) -- launched successfully and put a satellite into orbit, on its second attempt after a failure last October.
That launch -- coupled with Danuri’s launch Friday -- helps bring South Korea ever closer to achieving its space ambitions.
In Asia, China, Japan and India all have advanced space programmes -- and the South’s nuclear-armed neighbour North Korea has also demonstrated satellite launch capability.
Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogram (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Washington condemned as a disguised missile test.