SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea seeks a $459 million budget to build a 1.8-ton robotic lunar lander, which it wants to send to the moon in 2031 for a one-year mission on the nation’s next-generation carrier rocket under development.

The project would be South Korea’s second lunar exploration mission after its first robotic lunar orbiter, called Danuri, which is on the way to the moon after launching Aug. 4 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. 

Details of the plan were presented in an Aug. 24 public hearing organized by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the mission’s lead manager. The hearing was an essential step for KARI to request a budget for the mission. The plan can be modified in a feasibility study by the finance ministry.

According to the presentation, KARI seeks 618.4 billion won ($459 million) to build the lander and payload in collaboration with domestic institutes, universities and companies as part of an effort to nurture the nascent domestic space industry. Aboard the lander would be a 13-kilogram detector of volatile substances in the regolith, a 27-kilogram autonomous navigation system for the lander’s soft-landing on the moon, a 0.75-kilogram nuclear power generator, and a 15-kilogram rover. The rover could carry a 5-kilogram payload: an electron gun designed to image and analyze lunar dust, and a high-resolution camera. 

The octangle lander with four fixed landing gears would carry 1,210 kilograms of fuel and maneuver with three 420-newton thrusters, six 220-newton thrusters, and sixteen 20-newton engines for attitude control. While solar panels will be installed on the lander’s top and side, the rover’s deployment platform will be installed on one side of the lander. The presentation didn’t identify organizations that would participate in the project.

“If everything goes as planned, the development will begin in 2024 and continue through 2031,” said Cheon Yee-jin, a principal researcher at KARI, in the presentation live streamed online. “It will launch in 2031 and operate on the lunar surface for one year.” 

He said the lander would fly to the moon on the direct transfer trajectory, which takes five days to reach the moon, or the phasing loop transfer trajectory, which takes about 30 days to get there.

The researcher said the KARI is pushing forward with the lunar lander project for two major reasons: to demonstrate the homemade soft-landing technology and to develop the capability to carry out independent lunar exploration.

“To develop our independent capability for lunar landing and exploration is very important because international lunar exploration projects are expected to be done in a mutually reciprocal manner, which means we will get a chance to join an international project only when we have something unique to contribute,” Cheon said.


Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...