Citing a “lack of technical capabilities,” South Korea has abandoned a plan to build a robotic spacecraft to track the Apophis asteroid during its close passage near Earth in 2029.
The science ministry, which manages state-funded space programs, recently declared the mission “impossible” and decided not to demand the $307.7 million originally budgeted for the mission. The mission planned to launch a robotic spacecraft from July 2026 to January 2027 to accompany Apophis, who will fly past the Earth in April 2029.
It was planned that the probe would observe and map Apophis along the way, looking for changes in its structure due to the close flight to the Earth and the influence of the planet’s gravitational forces. In March 2021, then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the mission, if implemented, would help “cement the foundation of the nation’s space industry and advance related capabilities.”
“We’ve decided not to pursue Apophis probe mission because there were various issues making it difficult for the mission to be successful,” Shin Won-sik, a science ministry official, told SpaceNews. “To probe Apophis, we have to launch a spacecraft by 2027 at the latest. But with the rocket and spacecraft-making capabilities we have, it’s unrealistic to launch in time.”
According to the official, although the Apophis mission has been canceled, this does not mean that South Korea has completely abandoned asteroid missions from its catalog of future missions. Rather, the government considers it necessary to develop a “concrete plan” for probing another asteroid approaching Earth after Apophis.
“We will start working on the 4th revision of the Basic Plan for Promotion of Space Development in the second half of the year. And it’s likely that a bit more concrete and realistic plan for [the] asteroid mission [than the 3rd revision] would be included in the new plan,” Shin said.
Meanwhile, in April, NASA decided to continue the OSIRIS-Rex mission to visit Apophis after flying past Earth in September 2023 to drop a container with samples collected from the asteroid Bennu. During the continuation of the mission OSIRIS-Rex will fly to Apophis in 2029, shortly after the asteroid will pass at a distance of 32 thousand km from Earth. The spacecraft will spend 18 months on the outskirts of Apophis, studying a 350-meter asteroid and getting close enough to use its engines to remove surface rocks and expose subsurface materials.