South Korea has called off efforts to visit the space rock Apophis during a close but harmless flyby of our Earth in 2029, according to a media report.
The country’s science ministry said the proposed Apophis mission had a “lack of technical capability” that made the concept “unfeasible”, SpaceNews reported. (opens in a new tab) June 7. In the end, the department decided not to request the nearly $308 million it wanted to run the mission.
“The mission was to launch a robotic spacecraft between July 2026 and January 2027 to accompany Apophis as it zips past Earth in April 2029,” SpaceNews added. “The probe would observe and map Apophis all the way, looking for changes in its structure due to its close encounter with Earth and the planet’s gravitational forces.”
Related: The huge asteroid Apophis revealed in photos
South Korea is a 2021 signatory to the NASA-led Artemis Accords for peaceful space exploration, particularly of the moon, and is planning its own lunar missions in the 2030s.
Early examinations of Apophis suggested it had a statistically unlikely, but still possible, chance of hitting Earth in 2068. But more recent analysis from last year shows the asteroid has not posed a threat since at least least the last century. (NASA continues to monitor the issues, but decades of scanning with partner telescopes have revealed no immediately worrisome near-Earth objects.)
Shin Won-sik, an official with South Korea’s science ministry, confirmed his country’s mission cancellation to SpaceNews, but added that the country is considering other asteroid missions in the future. The country’s forthcoming fourth revision of its space development plan should include something “a little more concrete and realistic” than was achievable with the Apophis mission, he said.
The third revision (opens in a new tab) of the plan, released in February 2018, contained few technical details about the mission, SpaceNews added. Work on the fourth revision is expected to begin in the second half of 2022, Shin said.
While South Korea is no longer expected to visit the once-notorious asteroid, other plans are underway to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of 2029, many of which are still in the mission design stage.
In April, NASA announced that its ongoing asteroid-collecting mission OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, will be repurposed to visit Apophis. The mission will also acquire a new nickname: OSIRIS-APEX, which is short for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer.