South Korea tests first nationally-made rocket as it continues its satellite launch program: NPR
Hong Hae-in / AP
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea launched its first domestically produced space rocket on Thursday, which officials describe as a milestone in the country’s pursuit of a satellite launch program.
It was not immediately clear whether the three-stage Nuri rocket had successfully sent a dummy payload – a 1.5-ton block of stainless steel and aluminum – into orbit 372 to 497 miles above Earth.
Live images showed the 154-foot rocket hovering in the air with bright yellow flames coming out of its engines after take off at Naro Space Center, the country’s only spaceport, on a small island off its southern coast.
The launch, which was observed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, was delayed by an hour as engineers needed more time to examine the rocket’s valves. There were also concerns that strong winds and other conditions would pose problems for a successful launch.
Officials from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the country’s space agency, said it would take about 30 minutes to determine whether the rocket successfully put the payload into orbit.
Nuri’s tallest first stage, the main booster stage, was to land in waters in southwestern Japan after separation, and its second stage is expected to fall in remote Pacific waters east of the Philippines. , approximately 1,740 miles from the launch site. The smallest third stage carries the payload and is designed to place it in orbit.
After relying on other countries to launch its satellites since the early 1990s, South Korea is now trying to become the 10th country to send a satellite into space with its own technology.
Officials say such a capability would be crucial to the country’s space ambitions, which include plans to send more advanced communications satellites and acquire its own military intelligence satellites. The country also hopes to send a probe to the moon by 2030.
Nuri is the country’s first space launcher built entirely with national technology. The three-stage rocket is powered by five 75-ton class rocket motors placed in its first and second stages.
KARI scientists and engineers plan to test Nuri several times, including performing another launch with a dummy device in May 2022, before trying with a real satellite.
South Korea previously launched a space launcher from Naro spaceport in 2013, which was a two-stage rocket built primarily with Russian technology. This launch came after years of consecutive delays and failures. The rocket, named Naro, reached the desired altitude during its first test in 2009, but failed to eject a satellite into orbit, then exploded shortly after liftoff during its second test in 2010.
It was not clear how North Korea, which had been accused of using its space launch attempts in recent years as a disguise to develop long-range missile technology, would react to Thursday’s launch.
While pushing to expand its nuclear and missile program, the North has been sensitive to South Korea’s growing defense spending and its efforts to build more powerful conventional missiles.
In a speech to the parliament in Pyongyang last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused the United States and South Korea of ”destroying stability and balance” in the region with their allied military activities. and a US-led “excessive accumulation of weapons”. in the south.
While Nuri is powered by liquid propellants which must be fueled shortly before launch, the South Koreans plan to develop a solid-fueled space launch rocket by 2024, which could possibly be prepared for a faster launch. and also more profitable.