According to media reports, South Korea has canceled its effort to visit the space rock Apophis during a close but harmless flyby of our planet in 2029.
South Korean science ministry official Shin Won-sik confirmed the mission's cancellation to SpaceNews but added that the country is considering more asteroid missions in the future. According to him, the country's upcoming fourth revision of its space development plan should include something "a little more concrete and realistic" than what the Apophis mission was capable of.
The science ministry, which oversees state-funded space programs, recently declared the mission "unfeasible" and decided not to request the $307.7 million budget that had been requested. The mission 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 observe and map Apophis the entire journey, looking for structural changes caused by its close encounter with Earth and the planet's gravitational forces. South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated in March 2021 that if the mission is carried out, it will help "cement the foundation of the nation's space industry and advance related capabilities."
South Korea plans its lunar missions in the 2030s and is a 2021 signatory to the NASA-led Artemis accords for peaceful space exploration, particularly of the moon.
Early analyses of Apophis suggested that it had a statistically unlikely, but still possible, chance of colliding with Earth in 2068. However, newer research from the last year indicates that the asteroid will not pose a threat for at least the next century. (NASA is still looking for problems, but decades of scanning with partner telescopes have yielded no immediately concerning near-Earth objects.)
The third revision, announced in February 2018, was only a rough outline with few specifics. The plan assumed South Korea would be able to secure necessary technologies and capabilities by launching the country's first lunar orbiter in 2022 and a robotic lunar lander by 2030.
The lunar orbiter project is on track, with the spacecraft set to launch on Aug. 3 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. There has been little progress in developing a lunar lander or a rocket capable of putting a domestically-built probe on an intercept course with an approaching asteroid.
While South Korea is no longer expected to visit the once-infamous asteroid, there are other plans in the works to capitalize on the unique 2029 opportunity, many of which are still in the mission concept stage.
NASA announced in April that its ongoing asteroid-scooping mission, OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, will be repurposed to visit Apophis. The mission will also be renamed OSIRIS-APEX, which stands for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer.