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A View from Brittany Sauser

South Korea's New Rocket

For the first time, the country has launched a vehicle carrying a satellite, but it failed to reach its intended orbit.

  • August 25, 2009

The excitement of South Korea’s historic launch of a space rocket earlier today came to a roaring halt–the mission, which was carrying a satellite to measure atmospheric radiation, failed to reach its intended orbit.

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, carrying a science
satellite, launched today. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute

The 108-foot-tall rocket, called Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, lifted off from the Naro Space Center at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, about 300 miles south of Seoul. Its first launch attempt was scrubbed last week because of a computer software glitch. With a successful launch, the country would have joined nine other space-faring nations with domestic launch capabilities.

Now South Korea must go back to the drawing board. The country’s news outlets are reporting that the satellite broke away from the rocket about 22 miles farther from Earth than had been intended, but officials are giving no further details.

The country has spent an estimated $402 million to build the rocket with the help of the Russians, and since its inception in 2002, the rocket has been fraught with delays.

The rocket uses a Russian-built first stage powered by a kerosene-burning RD-191 engine. The first stage was to travel 120 miles before breaking away from the Korean-built upper stage. At an altitude of 190 miles, the upper stage would then ignite its solid-rocket boosters to propel the spacecraft, carrying the small 219-pound satellite to its desired orbit.

South Korea has been eager to advance its space program, partially to keep up with its neighbors–North Korea, China, and Japan–which have all launched their own rockets. North Korea’s launch, however, was highly controversial in the international community because many, including the United States, believed the country was actually testing long-range ballistic missiles. South Korea, in contrast, has developed its program very openly and transparently.

Other countries that have launched their own satellites into orbit include France, the United Kingdom, India, Iran, and Israel.

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