South Korea announced on Tuesday that it had successfully launched its first nationally-designed space rocket and put satellites into orbit, which authorities said was a “giant step” in space.
The Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle II, a 200-ton liquid-fueled rocket called Nuri, lifted off from the Goheung launch site at 4:00 p.m. local time, with one commentator saying, “it looks like everything is going according to plan.”
This second test comes eight months after the failure of the first launch during which the rocket failed to send its dummy payload into orbit, which was a setback for Seoul.
All three stages of the rocket operated, taking it to an altitude of 700 kilometers, and it successfully separated from a performance verification satellite and placed it into orbit, Seoul said.
The South Korean space program “has taken a leap forward,” said Lee Jong-ho, Minister of Science and Technology, calling the mission a success.
“South Korea has become the seventh nation in the world to launch a spacecraft with local technology,” he said. South Korea will launch a lunar orbiter in August, he added, saying the government would continue its quest to become “an advanced space nation”.
This test comes eight months after the launch of a first rocket which had failed to send its dummy payload into orbit, the engine of the third stage having stopped working earlier than expected.
In Tuesday’s test, besides a dummy satellite, Nuri carried a rocket performance verification satellite and four satellites developed by four local universities for research purposes.
It took about ten years to develop this rocket, at a cost of 2,000 billion won. With its six liquid fuel engines, it weighs 200 tonnes and is 47.2 meters long.
South Korea is the 12th largest economy in the world and one of the most technologically advanced countries, notably with its flagship, the Samsung Electronics group, the largest manufacturer of smartphones and chips in the world.
But it has always lagged behind in the conquest of space where the Soviet Union had led the way with the launch of the first satellite in 1957, followed closely by the United States.
In Asia, China, Japan and India have developed advanced space programs.
North Korea, a neighbor of the South and endowed with nuclear weapons, is claiming its place in the club of countries with their own capacity to launch satellites.
Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology, and Pyongyang launched a 300-kilogram satellite into orbit in 2012. Washington condemned the launch, calling it a disguised missile test.
South Korea becomes the seventh nation — not counting North Korea — to successfully launch a one-tonne payload on its own rockets.
The South Korean space program has a mixed record: its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which partly used Russian technology, ended in failure.
In January 2013, its first rocket, built with Russian scientists, was finally successfully launched.
“The fact that we now have our own space rocket means that we will be able to test and verify the technologies needed for space exploration projects in the future,” said Bang Hyo-choong, professor of aerospace engineering at the Higher Institute. Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
The satellite launch sector is increasingly the preserve of private companies, notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which counts the American space agency NASA and the South Korean army among its customers.
Tuesday’s test appears to bring South Korea closer to realizing its space ambitions, including plans to land a probe on the Moon by 2030.
South Korea plans to conduct four more such test launches by 2027.