South Korea joins Asian space race

South Korea joins Asian space race

Plans to reach the Moon in 2020

South Korea is the latest Asian nation to join the local race to land a spacecraft on the Moon.

The country will send an unmanned satellite to the lunar surface by 2020, and aims to land a robot craft five years later, the science ministry announced yesterday.

China, Japan and India all have plans to land unmanned craft on the Moon within a decade. Unmanned Chinese and Japanese spacecraft orbited the Moon this year, and India plans to follow suit next year.

China also has firm plans to land manned spacecraft on the Moon within 20 years.

"A two-stage rocket will carry the craft into space," Paik Hong-yul, head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, told the Joongang Daily.

"The first stage will carry the craft to 600km above the Earth, before the second stage makes the rest of the journey to the Moon's orbit."

The space plans will be discussed in public hearings prior to receiving final approval, Hankyoreh Media reported.

South Korea is currently working with Russia to develop its own two-stage launch vehicle to put satellites into low Earth orbit. A larger vehicle, able to reach geostationary orbit, is planned for 2017.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute is building a launch pad on an island off the southwest coast, according to The Korea Times.

The government plans to spend up to $3.9bn developing launch vehicles and building the new launch facilities over the next nine years.

Manufacturing of the lunar exploration vehicles is expected to begin in 2017, assuming that the project is approved.