South Korea cancels plans to visit asteroid Apophis coming close to Earth

South Korea has for now called off its plan to visit Apophis, an asteroid that is expected to come close to Earth in 2029. The mission was likely canceled on the grounds of the agency’s lack of technical capabilities to design a mission within the stipulated timeline.

According to a report published in South Korea’s Newsis, the science ministry, which manages state-funded space programs has termed it “unfeasible” and has decided against requesting the $307.7 million budget it initially sought for the mission.

The mission was called off following a preliminary feasibility study conducted by the Ministry of Science and Technology terming the possibility of success to be uncertain.

“The Office of the asteroid exploration plan has been canceled, but instead, we plan to strengthen and announce the space exploration plan including asteroids in the second half of the year,” Newsis quoted an official from the South Korean Ministry of Science and Technology as saying.

The development comes just days after South Korea’s second test launch of its domestically produced Nuri rocket successfully placed several satellites in orbit, jumpstarting its space program after a first test failed last year. The rocket successfully placed a 1.3-ton dummy satellite and four small cube satellites developed by universities for research, into orbit.

The idea to visit the asteroid was first formulated in 2020 with the objective of studying the whereabouts and nature of the Apophis which will approach Earth by April 2029. A dynamic probe was in the making to study the structure, components, and the possibility of collision with the Earth.

Samples from asteroid Bennu will soon arrive on Earth. (Photo: NASA)

The spacecraft was speculated to be ready for launch between July 2026 and January 2027.

Officials claim that this does not, however, mean that South Korea has essentially given up on its asteroid exploration goals. Another asteroid mission project is anticipated to be submitted in the country’s upcoming Basic Plan for the Development of Cosmonautics, which may start anytime in the second half of 2022.

Apart from the South Korean space agency, NASA is also looking to explore asteroids and a mission to deflect an incoming object is already on its way. NASA recently returned samples from asteroid Bennu, which are on its way to Earth. OSIRIS-ReX after dropping the Bennu samples will head to Apophis.

The whole process of studying chemical compositions, its orbit, and the surface of the asteroid will be carried out by OSIRIS extensively, for the next 18 months upon approach.

According to Nasa the asteroid is highly unlikely to collide with Earth this century, but the scientists haven’t ruled out the feasibility of it colliding with the Earth in 2068, though the chances are bleak.


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