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South Korea signs Artemis Accords, aims for moon by 2030

Republic of Korea Minister of Science and ICT Lim Hyesook signs the Artemis Accords during a ceremony in Seoul on May 24, 2021.
Republic of Korea Minister of Science and ICT Lim Hyesook signs the Artemis Accords during a ceremony in Seoul on May 24, 2021. (Image credit: ROK Minister of Science and ICT)

South Korea has joined NASA's moon-exploration coalition. 

South Korea became the 10th country to sign the Artemis Accords, a set of principles laying out the responsible exploration of the moon, on May 24 during a ceremony in Seoul. The Accords take their name from NASA's Artemis program, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s.

"I am thrilled the Republic of Korea has committed to the Artemis Accords. Their signature demonstrates the strong momentum worldwide in supporting our moon-to-Mars exploration approach," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

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An orbital trajectory plan for South Korea's Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter mission launching in 2022. (Image credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

The United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates had all earlier signed the Accords, while South Korea became the first country to sign up during the administration of President Joe Biden.

South Korea's interest in the moon has grown greatly in recent months, with South Korean president Moon Jae-in declaring in March that the East Asian nation aims to send its own lander to the moon by 2030.

Under the plans, the Republic of Korea, the official name for South Korea, would use a domestically developed rocket to launch the robotic lunar lander, SpaceNews reported.

"We will actively push for challenging space exploration projects that build on the foundation achieved by developing a Korean launch vehicle," Moon said. "By 2030, we will achieve our dream of landing on the moon by using our own launch vehicle. The technological prowess, experience and confidence that will be gained from exploring the moon, the first step in space exploration, will provide a solid foundation for space development."

President Moon also announced the beginning of a feasibility study for a mission to study the near-Earth asteroid Apophis.

The first stage of the new Korea Space Launch Vehicle Nuri undergoes a test fire in this image released by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in March 2021. (Image credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

Few details regarding the lunar landing mission are currently available, and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) did not respond to a request for comment.

The country is, however, working on a three-stage liquid rocket known as the Korea Space Launch Vehicle, or Nuri. A first flight is currently planned for October this year.

KARI is developing the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in August 2022 as part of the country's lunar exploration plans. KPLO will carry a 15-foot (5 meters) resolution camera, a wide-field polarized camera, a magnetic field sensor, a gamma ray sensor and space internet test payload, all developed by South Korea. 

A sixth payload, ShadowCam, will be provided by NASA to observe reflectance from permanently shadowed regions to map possible water ice deposits.

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Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.