South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter on Friday as it ramps up its space programs with the goal of landing a probe on the moon by 2030.

The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, called Danuri, which means “enjoy the Moon” was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral U.S. Space Force Station at 8:08 a.m. on Friday (2308 GMT on Thursday), according to South Korea’s research ministry.

At 40 minutes after launch, the 678 kilogram (1,495 lb) Danuri detached from the missile and started communicating with a ground station around 9:40 a.m.

“Analysis of the received information confirmed … Danuri was operating normally,” Vice Science Minister Oh Tae-seog said at a press conference, revealing that the orbiter had set a course towards the moon.

According to the ministry, it will reach the moon’s orbit in December before embarking on a year-long observation mission that will include hunting for a landing location and testing space internet equipment.

If it is successful, South Korea will become the world’s seventh lunar explorer and Asia’s fourth, after China, Japan, and India.

The launch was originally planned for Wednesday but was postponed due to a SpaceX rocket maintenance problem.

South Korea’s space program has been accelerated, with the objective of sending a probe to the moon by 2030. It has also joined the Artemis program, which aims to return to the moon by 2024.

South Korea conducted a second test launch of its domestically made Nuri rocket in July, after the successful launch of its first solid-fuel space-launch rocket in March as part of attempts to deploy spy satellites. 

Space launches have long been a contentious topic on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea is sanctioned for its nuclear-armed ballistic missile development.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, asked for the expansion of its space rocket launch site in March, after South Korea and the United States accused it of testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile while launching a space vehicle. 

South Korea claims that its space program is for peaceful and scientific objectives, and that any military applications of the technology, such as surveillance satellites, are for defense.

Source: Reuters

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