South Korea prepares to launch country’s first space rocket
GOHEUNG, South Korea, Oct.21 (Reuters) – South Korea is due to conduct its first test launch into space of a nationally-built rocket on Thursday, a major step towards the launch of the country’s space program.
The three-stage KSLV-II NURI rocket emblazoned with the South Korean flag stood on its launch pad at the Naro Space Center before its scheduled takeoff at 5:00 p.m. (08:00 GMT) with a dummy satellite.
The NURI, or “world,” rocket is designed to orbit payloads of 1.5 tonnes 600 km to 800 km (373 miles-497 miles) above Earth. South Korea’s future plans call for the launch of surveillance, navigation and communications satellites, and even lunar probes. Read more
The launch was tentatively scheduled an hour earlier, but officials said they were facing delays in inspecting the craft’s valves. Weather conditions were also being monitored amid reports of high winds in the upper atmosphere.
“The rocket itself has no problem,” Yong Hong-taek, first vice minister of science and technology, said during a briefing at the space center.
Overseen by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the 200-ton rocket was moved to its launch pad and set up on Wednesday.
“All the preparations such as the umbilical connection and the confidential inspection have been carried out,” the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement.
The three stages of the rocket are powered by liquid fuel boosters built by a subsidiary of the South Korean conglomerate Hanwha, with a group of four 75-ton boosters in the first stage, another 75-ton booster in the second stage, and a single 7- ton rocket engine in the final stages.
Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea faces sanctions for its nuclear ballistic missile program.
South Korea’s plans call for the launch of a range of military satellites in the future, but officials deny that NURI has any use as a weapon.
The country’s last such rocket, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several unsuccessful tests, was developed jointly with Russia.
Having its own launcher will give South Korea the flexibility to determine payload types and launch schedules, as well as protect “confidential” payloads such as spy satellites, officials told Reuters.
Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates
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