South Korea seeks space race with first local rocket

Nuri is the first space rocket entirely produced in South Korea – Copyright Korea Aerospace Research Institute / AFP Lee Hyo-kyun

South Korea aims to join the ranks of advanced space nations on Thursday when it attempts to put a one-ton payload into orbit using its first fully homemade rocket.

The country has become the 12th largest economy in the world and a technologically advanced nation, home to the world’s largest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics.

But it fell behind in the world of spaceflight, where the Soviet Union led the way with the first satellite launch in 1957, followed closely by the United States.

In Asia, China, Japan, and India all have advanced space programs, and nuclear-weaponized neighbor to the South, North Korea, was the most recent to join the club of nuclear-weapon countries. their own satellite launch capability.

Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology, and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogram (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Western countries condemned as a disguised missile test.

Even now, only six countries – not including North Korea – have managed to launch a one-ton payload on their own rockets.

The South will become the seventh if the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II, unofficially named Nuri, manages to orbit its dummy 1.5-ton cargo from the Goheung launch site, with an altitude of 600 to 800 kilometers being targeted.

The three-stage rocket has been in development for a decade at a cost of 2,000 billion won ($ 1.6 billion). It weighs 200 tons and is 47.2 meters (155 feet) long, equipped with a total of six liquid fuel engines.

– Aim for the moon –

But the South Korean space program has a checkered record – its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which partly used Russian technology, both ended in failure, with the second exploding two minutes after the start. theft and Seoul and Moscow blame each other.

Eventually a launch in 2013 was successful, but still relied on an engine developed by Russia for its first stage.

The satellite launch business is increasingly the preserve of private companies, notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX, whose clients include the US space agency NASA and the South Korean military.

But one expert said that a successful launch of Nuri gave South Korea “endless” potential.

“Rockets are the only way humanity has to get into space,” Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, told local newspaper Chosun Biz.

“Having such technology means that we have met the basic conditions to participate in this space exploration competition.”

Thursday’s launch is a step in an increasingly ambitious space program for South Korea, which President Moon Jae-in says will seek to launch a lunar orbiter next year, after inspecting a test of the Nuri engine in March.

“With achievements in South Korean rocket systems, the government will pursue an active space exploration project,” he said.

“We will fulfill the dream of landing our probe on the Moon by 2030.”

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