Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
(NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

Look at What NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Just Caught Speeding in Orbit Around the Moon

The identity of a speeding object captured in images by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter last month has now been revealed, according to officials with the American space agency.

The unusual-looking, elongated object was spotted by the narrow-angle camera aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as it made its routine pass over the Moon’s surface between March 5 and 6, 2004.

Now, NASA officials have revealed the identity of the strange-looking object and the reason for its curious appearance in the photos the LRO obtained last month.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The object was photographed by the narrow-angle camera aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter last month (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University).

In 2022, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) launched its own orbital spacecraft, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), on August 4 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Also known as Danuri, the KPLO represents the first official mission launched by South Korea, which will see the spacecraft in orbit around the Moon for one year.

During its mission, Danuri will be utilizing a suite of scientific instruments built by South Korea, as well as one U.S.-built instrument, to carry out several experiments that will study the lunar environment, as well as help demonstrate a “lunar internet” and identify potential future landing sites.

Operating in almost parallel orbits, last month, the KPLO and LRO passed each other going in opposite directions, allowing the LRO to capture images of the South Korean spacecraft as it whizzed by.

Due to their opposite directional paths and the speed at which each lunar orbiter is traveling in their respective orbits (estimated to be close to 7,200 miles per hour), Danuri appeared elongated, making it look close to ten times its actual size, even despite the short exposure time of just 0.338 milliseconds used by the LRO’s narrow-angle camera.

 According to the LRO operations team based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, the high travel velocities between the LRO and Danuri meant that perfect timing was required in order for the NASA team to capture images of the South Korean spacecraft.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The KPLO appears close to ten times its actual size in the images obtained by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in March, 2024 (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University).

The images obtained by NASA in March aren’t the first time that one of these spacecraft has obtained images of the other. Last April, the KPLO successfully obtained images of the LRO using its ShadowCam, which was provided by NASA for the South Korean orbiter’s mission.

NASA’s LRO, as seen from the KPLO in April 2023 (Credit: NASA/KARI/Arizona State University).

Possessing a conventional box shape with a pair of solar panel wings and a parabolic antenna, Danuri relies on a mono propulsion system that incorporates four 30N thrusters, which help it achieve orbital maneuvers, and an additional four 5N attitude control thrusters.

Although designed to operate for just a year, it is possible that the KPLO, like the LRO, may enter an extended phase, during which it will descend to a lower position in orbit, placing it just 70 km above the lunar surface.

In addition to the LRO and the KPLO, there are at least ten other objects that are currently known to be orbiting the Moon, some of which are now defunct.

You can learn more about the KPLO mission here. Meanwhile, additional details about the LRO’s ongoing collection of imagery and valuable data about the lunar surface can be found on NASA’s official Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter page.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at Follow his work at and on X: @MicahHanks.