STORY: The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, nicknamed Danuri, meaning "enjoy the Moon," departed on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral U.S. Space Force Station.
With Danuri, South Korea aims to become the world's seventh lunar explorer, and the fourth in Asia, behind China, Japan and India.
The launch comes as South Korea accelerates its space program, seeking to send a probe to the moon by 2030 and join nine countries working on the Artemis project aimed at returning to the moon by 2024.
The 678 kg (1,495 lb) Danuri separated from the projectile about 40 minutes after launch, and it should begin communicating with a ground station within 60 minutes.
It will enter the moon's orbit in December before starting a yearlong observation mission, including searching for a landing site and testing space internet technology, the ministry said.
South Korea says its space program is for peaceful and scientific purposes and any military use of the technology, such as in spy satellites, is for its defense.