A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at Launch Complex 39A the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 14. The Korean mission will be launched into space with a Falcon 9 rocket. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 1 (UPI) -- South Korea and SpaceX are fueled and ready to send a spacecraft on a long journey this week that will ultimately take it around the moon.
The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter is scheduled to launch on Tuesday night from Cape Canaveral in Florida on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The KPLO is expected to go into a low-altitude orbit around the moon after it breaks free of the Earth's gravity. South Korean engineers who traveled to the United States for the flight have completed fueling and testing.
"We want to develop critical technology for space exploration as well as for scientific investigation," Eunhyeuk Kim, a KPLO project scientist at the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, said according to Space.org.
The launch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.
Eventually, the KPLO will go into a polar orbit 62 miles above the lunar surface and perform observations for at least a year.
The key objectives of the project are to measure the magnetic force above the lunar surface and examine lunar resources such as water ice, uranium, helium-3, silicon and aluminum.
The $180 million mission will take a low-energy, fuel-efficient lunar path that's being pioneered by NASA's CAPSTONE spacecraft, which launched last month.
The mission will also create a topographic map that will help scientists on Earth choose future moon landing sites. NASA's Artemis program is aiming to return humans to the lunar surface in 2024.
The KPLO mission is the first step for South Korea's burgeoning lunar exploration program, which plans to put a robotic lander onto the lunar surface by 2030. The country is also planning an asteroid sample-return mission.
If it launches this week, the KPLO spacecraft should reach lunar orbit in mid-December.
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA