South Korea’s first domestically-built Nuri rocket blasted off on Thursday from its Naro Space Center located on a small island off its southern coast, showcasing the country’s ambitious space plans.
The test launch of three-stage Korea Space Launch Vehicle-II or KSLV-II Nuri rocket, emblazoned with South Korea’s flag, carried a dummy satellite at 0800 GMT on Thursday.
The Nuri, meaning ‘world’, rocket is designed to put 1.5-tonne payloads into orbit 600 to 800 kilometers above Earth. Seoul’s space effort envisages launching satellites for surveillance, navigation, and communications and even lunar probes.
But the rocket failed to put its dummy payload into orbit after the launch, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said.
The launch and all three stages of the KSLV-II worked, as did the payload separation, Moon said, but “putting a dummy satellite into orbit remains an unfinished mission”.
Overseen by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute or KARI, the 200-ton rocket was moved to its launch pad on Wednesday and raised into position.
South Korea’s first domestically produced space rocket reached its desired altitude but failed to deliver a dummy payload into orbit in its first test launch on Thursday.
Terming the test an “excellent accomplishment”, President Moon Jae-in that the rocket launch took the country a step further in its pursuit of a satellite launch program.
Live footage showed the 47-meter rocket soaring into the air, trailing bright yellow flames.
Lim Hye-sook, the country’s science minister, said Nuri’s first and second stages separated properly and that the third stage ejected the payload – a 1.5-ton block of stainless steel and aluminum – at 700km above Earth.
But she said launch data suggested that the third stage’s engine burned out early after 475 seconds, about 50 seconds shorter than planned, failing to provide the payload with enough speed to put it in a stable orbit.
Officials from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the country’s space agency, said debris from the payload would have landed somewhere in waters off the coast of southern Australia. The institute was planning to form an inspection committee soon to analyze what went wrong and map out adjustments before the next test launch.
The launch had been delayed by an hour because engineers needed more time to examine the rocket’s valves. There had also been concerns that strong winds and other conditions would pose challenges for a successful launch.
“Although (the launch) failed to achieve its objectives perfectly, it was an excellent accomplishment for a first launch,” Moon said in a televised speech.
“The separations of the rockets, fairings (covering the payload) and the dummy satellite worked smoothly. All this was done based on technology that is completely ours,” he added.
Since early 1990s, South Korea has been relying on other countries to launch its satellites, but it is now trying to become the 10th nation to send a satellite into space with its own technology.
The country is also hoping to send a probe to the moon by 2030.