On Thursday, South Korea’s first domestically manufactured space rocket attained its aspired altitude but failed to perform a copy payload into orbit in its first test launch. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who witnessed the launch on-site, still caught the test as an “excellent accomplishment” that drives the country a step further in its race for a satellite launch program.
Live footage unveiled the 47-metre rocket flying into the air with glowing yellow flames shooting out of its engines the following blastoff at Naro Space Center, the country’s only spaceport, on a small island off its southern coast.
Lim Hye-sook, the country’s science minister, said Nuri’s first and second stages divided adequately and that the third stage discharged the payload, a 1.5-ton slab of stainless steel and aluminium, at 700 kilometres above Earth.
But she said launch data proposed that the third stage’s engine burned out early after 475 seconds, about 50 seconds less than intended, failing to give the payload sufficient speed to uphold in orbit.
Officials from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the country’s space agency, said wreckage from the payload would have fallen around the waters south of Australia. The institute intended to form an investigation committee to examine what went wrong and map out changes before the rocket’s next test launch.
After depending on other countries to propel its satellites since the early 1990s, South Korea is now seeking to become the 10th nation to send a satellite into space with its technology. Officials say such an intelligence would be essential for the country’s space objectives, including plans to send more advanced communications satellites and obtain its military intelligence satellites. The nation is also expecting to send a probe to the Moon by 2030.
Nuri is the country’s first space launch vehicle constructed completely with domestic technology. The three-stage rocket is powered by five 75-ton class rocket engines placed in its first and second stages. It is intended to deliver a 1.5-ton payload into orbit 600 to 800 kilometres (372 to 497 miles) above Earth.
“The launch left some frustration, but it’s meaningful that we confirmed we have obtained core technology” for space launches, said Lim, the minister. Before working with an actual satellite, scientists and engineers at KARI intend to test Nuri several more times, including handling another launch with a dummy device in May 2022.
South Korea had propelled a space launch vehicle earlier from the Naro spaceport in 2013, a two-stage rocket mainly built with Russian technology. That launch came after years of setbacks and continuous failures. The rocket, named Naro, entered the desired altitude during its first test in 2009 but failed to discharge a satellite into orbit and then erupted quickly after takeoff during its second test in 2010.
South Korea currently has no military monitoring satellites of its own, which leaves it depending on U.S. spy satellites to monitor North Korea. Officials have declared optimism of propelling domestically produced, low-orbit military surveillance satellites using the country’s solid-fuel rockets in the next several years.