In March 2021, then-President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said the mission, if executed, would help “cement the foundation of the nation’s space industry and advance related capabilities.”
The official said although the Apophis mission was canceled, it doesn’t mean South Korea has completely crossed off asteroid missions from its future mission catalog. Rather, he said, the government feels the need to develop a “concrete plan” to carry out a probe of another asteroid approaching Earth after Apophis.
The 3rd revision, announced in February 2018, contained only a rough plan with few details. It said “a spacecraft for asteroid sample-return mission would launch by 2035 with the country’s own capacity.” The plan assumed South Korea would be able to secure necessary technologies and capabilities by launching the nation’s first lunar orbiter in 2022 and a robotic lunar lander by 2030. The lunar orbiter plan is proceeding on schedule, with the spacecraft set to launch Aug. 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. There’s been comparatively little progress on the planned development of a lunar lander or a rocket capable of putting a domestically built probe on an intercept course with an approaching asteroid.
“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.
The science ministry, which oversees state-funded space programs, recently declared the mission “unfeasible” and chose not to pursue the $307.7 million budget that had been requested. The plan called for the launch of a robotic spacecraft between July 2026 and January 2027 to accompany Apophis as it passes Earth in April 2029. The probe would study and map Apophis the whole journey, probing for structural changes caused by its close approach with Earth and the planet’s gravitational forces.
“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.”
Meanwhile, NASA decided in April to extend its OSIRIS-Rex mission to have it visit Apophis after swinging past Earth in September 2023 to eject a canister of samples collected from the asteroid Bennu. During its extended mission, OSIRIS-Rex will encounter Apophis in 2029 shortly after that asteroid passes 32,000 kilometers from the Earth. The spacecraft will spend 18 months in the vicinity of Apophis, studying the 350-meter asteroid and coming close enough to use its thrusters to brush away surface rocks and expose subsurface materials.