KPLO | Falcon 9 Block 5

Lift Off Time
August 4, 2022 – 23:08 UTC | 19:08 EDT
Mission Name
KPLO, Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
(Who paid for this?)
Korea Aerospace Research Institute
Falcon 9 Block 5, B1052-6; 78.51 day turnaround time
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, USA
Payload mass
~678 kg (~1,500 kg)
Where did the satellite go?
Trans Lunar Injection (Initial Orbit: 249 x 245 km orbit at 29.50 degrees)
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
~640 km downrange on Just Read the Instructions

Tug: Kurt J Crosby; Support: Bob
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
The fairing halves were recovered from the water ~730 km downrange by Bob
Were these fairings new?
No, both fairings are flight proven
This was the:
– 168th Falcon 9 launch
– 106th Falcon 9 flight with a flight proven booster
– 110th re-flight of a booster
– 32nd re-flight of a booster in 2022
– 134th booster landing
– 60th consecutive landing (a record)
– 34rd launch for SpaceX in 2022 (a record)
– 93rd SpaceX launch from SLC-40
– 97th orbital launch attempt of 2022
(94th successful)
Where to watch
Official Replay

How Did It Go?

SpaceX successfully launched the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbit (KPLO) to lunar orbit atop a Falcon 9 Block 5. Lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida, the 678 kg spacecraft will explore lunar geography.

What Is KPLO?

The KPLO spacecraft was built and developed by the South Korean Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and is Korea’s first lunar spacecraft. With the goal of surveying lunar resources (such as ice, helium, uranium, silicon, aluminum, etc) as well as demonstrating Korea’s ability to build and operate a lunar spacecraft, KPLO is the first phase of their larger Korean Lunar Exploration Program (KLEP) plans.

Based on the hopeful success of KPLO, the second phase of KLEP comprises a lunar orbiter, lunar lander, and lunar rover. This mission is expected to launch in 2025.

KPLO spacecraft
An artist’s rendering of the KPLO spacecraft (Credit: Ministry of Science)

KLPO Spacecraft

Roughly a month after launch, the KLPO satellite will reach a 100 km circular polar low-lunar orbit via the ballistic lunar capture method. To reach lunar orbit, the spacecraft has four main 30 N thrusters and four 5 N thrusters for attitude control. To remain in contact with the Earth, KLPO has S-band and X-band transponders that are powered by a 760-watt set of solar panels.

The satellite has six instruments:

Lunar Terrain Imager (LUTI). As the name implies, this instrument will be used to image the lunar surface and scout for future landing sites. The instrument has a ~5-meter resolution.

Wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam). Polarimetry is used to analyze the composition of regolith from a distance. The PolCam will be used to investigate the entirety of the lunar regolith, with the exception of that on the poles.

KPLO Magnetometer (KMAG). As the name implies, this instrument will be used to measure the strength of the lunar poles.

KPLO Gamma Ray Spectrometer (KGRS). Using spectroscopy–the process of looking at emission gaps–this instrument will research the composition of the lunar regolith.

Delay-Tolerant Networking experiment (DTNPL)

NASA ShadowCam. NASA’s ShadowCam will search the lunar surface for evidence of large ice deposits.

Falcon 9 Block 5?

The Falcon 9 Block 5 is SpaceX’s partially reusable two-stage medium-lift launch vehicle. The vehicle consists of a reusable first stage, an expendable second stage, and, when in payload configuration, a pair of reusable fairing halves.

First Stage

The Falcon 9 first stage contains 9 Merlin 1D+ sea level engines. Each engine uses an open gas generator cycle and runs on RP-1 and liquid oxygen (LOx). Each engine produces 845 kN of thrust at sea level, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 285 seconds, and 934 kN in a vacuum with an ISP of 313 seconds. Due to the powerful nature of the engine, and the large amount of them, the Falcon 9 first stage is able to lose an engine right off the pad, or up to two later in the flight, and be able to place the payload into orbit successfully.

The Merlin engines are ignited by triethylaluminum and triethylborane (TEA-TEB), which instantly burst into flames when mixed in the presence of oxygen. During static fire and launch the TEA-TEB is provided by the ground service equipment. However, as the Falcon 9 first stage is able to propulsively land, three of the Merlin engines (E1, E5, and E9) contain TEA-TEB canisters to relight for the boost back, reentry, and landing burns.

Second Stage

The Falcon 9 second stage is the only expendable part of the Falcon 9. It contains a singular MVacD engine that produces 992 kN of thrust and an ISP of 348 seconds. The second stage is capable of doing several burns, allowing the Falcon 9 to put payloads in several different orbits.

For missions with many burns and/or long coasts between burns, the second stage is able to be equipped with a mission extension package. When the second stage has this package it has a grey strip, which helps keep the RP-1 warm, an increased number of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB.

Falcon 9 Block 5, flight
Falcon 9 Block 5 launching on the Starlink Group 4-25 mission (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Booster

The booster that supported the KPLO mission was B1052, which had supported five previous flights. Hence, its designation for this mission was B1052-6; this changed to B1052-7 upon successful landing.

B1052’s missionsLaunch Date (UTC)Turn Around Time (Days)
Arabsat-6AApril 11, 2019 22:35N/A
STP-2June 25, 2019 06:3074.33
CSG-2January 31, 2022 23:11951.70
Starlink Group 4-10March 9, 2022 13:4536.61
Starlink Group 4-18May 18, 2022 10:5969.88
KPLOAugust 4, 2022 23:0878.51

Following stage separation, the Falcon 9 conducted two burns. These burns softly touched down the booster on SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ship Just Read the Instructions.

falcon 9 booster, landing, drone ship
Falcon 9 landing on Of Course I Still Love You after launching Bob and Doug (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 Fairings

The Falcon 9’s fairing consists of two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.

Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters and a parafoil which are used to softly touch down the fairing half in the ocean. SpaceX used to attempt to catch the fairing halves, however, at the end of 2020 this program was canceled due to safety risks and a low success rate. On KPLO, SpaceX attempted to recover the fairing halves from the water with their recovery vessel Doug.

In 2021, SpaceX started flying a new version of the Falcon 9 fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.

All times are approximate

00:38:00SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
00:35:00RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway
00:35:001st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
00:16:002nd stage LOX loading underway
00:07:00Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
00:01:00Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
00:01:00Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
00:00:45SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
00:00:03Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
00:00:00Falcon 9 liftoff

KPLO Launch, Landing, and Deployment

All times are approximate

00:01:12Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:311st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:341st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:422nd stage engine starts (SES-1)
00:03:15Fairing deployment
00:06:491st stage entry burn begins
00:07:191st stage entry burn complete
00:07:581st stage landing burn begins
00:08:332nd stage engine cutoff (SECO)
00:09:011st stage landing
00:34:152nd stage engine restarts (SES-2)
00:35:152nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
00:40:16KPLO deploys

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