Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter

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Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO)
Mission typeTechnology demonstration and reconnaissance
OperatorSouth Korea Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)
Mission duration1 year[1]
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerSouth Korea Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)
Launch mass678 kg (1,495 lb)[2]
Power760 W[3]
Start of mission
Launch dateJuly 2022[2]
RocketFalcon 9 v1.2 (Block 5)[1][4]
Orbital parameters
Reference systemselenocentric
Altitude~ 100 km (62 mi)
Inclination90° (polar)
Moon orbiter
Orbital insertionAugust 2022
BandS band, X band[3][5]
Phase 2: lander & rover →

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) is a planned lunar orbiter by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) of South Korea. The orbiter, its science payload and ground control infrastructure, are technology demonstrators. The orbiter will also be tasked with surveying lunar resources such as water ice, uranium, helium-3, silicon, and aluminium, and produce a topographic map to help select future lunar landing sites.

The mission is planned to be launched in July 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket.


South Korea's space agency, called Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), together with NASA produced a lunar orbiter feasibility study in July 2014.[6] The two agencies signed an agreement in December 2016 where NASA will collaborate with one science instrument payload, telecommunications, navigation, and mission design.[7][4][8]

The Korean Lunar Exploration Program (KLEP) is divided in two phases.[4][9] Phase 1 is the launch and operation of KPLO, which will be the first lunar probe by South Korea,[7] meant to develop and enhance South Korea's technological capabilities, as well as map natural resources from orbit. The key goals of the KPLO orbiter mission include investigation of lunar geology and space environment, exploration of lunar resources, and testing of future space technology which will assist in future human activities on the Moon and beyond. The launch is expected in 2022.[2]

Phase 2 will include a lunar obiter, a lunar lander, and a 20 kg rover,[10] to be launched together on a KSLV-II South Korean rocket from the Naro Space Center,[8][9] in 2025.[11][12]


The main objectives of this mission are to enhance the South Korean technological capabilities in the ground and in outer space, and to "increase both the national brand value and national pride".[13] The specific technological objectives are:[5]

  • Development of critical technologies for lunar exploration.
  • Produce a topographic map for support to select future lunar landing sites, and to survey lunar resources such as water ice, uranium, helium-3, silicon, and aluminium.[5]
  • Development and validation of new space technologies.

From the lunar science perspective, understanding the water cycle on the Moon is critical to mapping and exploitation.[14] Solar wind protons can chemically reduce the abundant iron oxides present the lunar soil, producing native metal iron (Fe0) and a hydroxyl ion (OH ) that can readily capture a proton to form water (H2O). Hydroxyl and water molecules are thought to be transported throughout the lunar surface by mysterious unknown mechanisms, and they seem to accumulate at permanently shadowed areas that offer protection from heat and solar radiation.[14]


KPLO carries six payloads with a total mass of approximately 35 kg (77 lb).[5] Five instruments are from South Korea and one from NASA:[1][8][14]

  • Lunar Terrain Imager (LUTI) will take images of probable landing sites for the 2nd stage lunar exploration mission and special target sites of the lunar surfaces with a high spatial resolution (<5m).
  • Wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam) will acquire the polarimetric images of the entire lunar surface except for the polar regions with medium spatial resolution in order to investigate the detailed characteristics of lunar regolith.
  • KPLO Magnetometer (KMAG) is a magnetometer that will measure the magnetic strength of the lunar environment (up to ~100 km above the lunar surface) with ultra-sensitive magnetic sensors.
  • KPLO Gamma Ray Spectrometer (KGRS) is a gamma-ray spectrometer that will investigate the characteristics of lunar resources including rare elements and minerals, and map their spatial distribution.
  • Delay-Tolerant Networking experiment (DTNPL) will perform a communication experiment on delay-tolerant networking (DTN), a type of interplanetary Internet for communication with landed assets.[5]
  • NASA's ShadowCam will map the reflectance within the permanently shadowed regions to search for evidence of water ice deposits. The instrument is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC camera, but it is 800 times more sensitive.[15][16] ShadowCam was developed by scientists at Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems.[16]


Originally planned for a December 2018 launch,[8][16] KPLO is now scheduled for a July 2022 launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.[2] The orbiter will perform at least three highly elliptical orbits of Earth, each time increasing its velocity and altitude until it reaches escape velocity, initiating a trans-lunar injection. After launch, it will take the spacecraft about one month to reach the Moon.[8] The spacecraft's main propulsion is from four 30-newton thrusters, and for attitude control it uses four 5-newton thrusters.[5][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). Gunter Dirk Krebs, Gunter's space Page. Accessed on 25 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Naro Space Center [@Kor_Spaceflight] (10 September 2019). "The launch of the Korean lunar orbiter - KPLO spacecraft on the @SpaceX Falcon9 rocket has been delayed to July, 2022 due to technical issues. (* Launch mass is increased from 500kg to 678kg, and the orbit will change between in eliptical & circular during the mission.)" (Tweet). Retrieved 10 September 2019 – via Twitter.
  3. ^ a b KPLO. NASA Technical Server. Accessed on 25 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c SpaceX selected to assist 2020 South Korean lunar orbiter voyage. Lee Keun-young, Hankyoreh. 30 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) Status Update. (PDF) Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). 10 October 2017.
  6. ^ “Opening of a New Chapter for Korea-US Space Cooperation” Signing of Korea-US Lunar Probe Implementation Agreement. Korea Aerospace Research Institute. (KARI). 31 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b KPLO. Lunar Exploration Program. Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). Accessed on 25 January 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f South Korea's first lunar mission planned for 2020. Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society. December 7, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Korean Lunar Exploration Program. Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). Accessed on 25 January 2019.
  10. ^ Kim, K., Wohler, C., Hyeok Ju, G., Lee, S., Rodriguez, A., Berezhnoy, A., Gasselt, S., Grumpe, A., & Aymaz, R. (2016). Korean lunar lander – Concept study for landing-site selection for lunar resource exploration. The International Archives Of The Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing And Spatial Information Sciences, Vol XLI-B4, Pp 417–423 (2016), 417. doi:10.5194/isprs-archives-XLI-B4-417-2016
  11. ^ Pak, Han-pyol (1 July 2013). "핵전지 실은 한국형 로버 … 지구서 우주인터넷 통해 조종". 중앙일보. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  12. ^ Kim, Jack (20 November 2007). "South Korea eyes moon orbiter in 2020, landing 2025". Reuters. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  13. ^ Prospective of Korean space project, Lunar Exploration. Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), South Korea. Accessed on 25 January 2019.
  14. ^ a b c South Korea’s 2018 Lunar Mission. Paul D. Spudis, Air and Space Magazine. 26 September 2016.
  15. ^ ShadowCam. NASA.
  16. ^ a b c Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 28 April 2017.

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