August 25, 2009

South Korea Celebrates Semi-Successful Rocket Launch

South Korea's first space rocket blasted off Tuesday after a long-delayed launch, but failed to place a satellite into its designated orbit, AFP reported.

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 lifted off from the Naro Space Center at 5:00 pm (0800 GMT). The payload separated from the second-stage booster about eight minutes after lift-off but did not enter its targeted orbit.

Science and technology minister Ahn Byong-Man said the South Korean-built 220-pound scientific research satellite that was placed into Earth's orbit was not following the designated orbit, hampering communications with mission control.

Ahn reported that all aspects of the launch were normal, but the satellite exceeded its planned orbit and reached an altitude of 225 miles, yet it should have separated at around 163 miles.

The minister said a joint probe is under way by South Korean and Russian engineers to find the exact cause.

The Yonhap news agency reported that experts from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute were attempting to track the whereabouts of the satellite and declined to say if contact could be made later.

Still, the launch was seen as a "half success" since the rocket functioned without any problem, despite the satellite's failure to reach its proper orbit, the experts said.

Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo said at the launch site at Goheung on the south coast that the rocket was successfully launched and he congratulated the team of engineers.

North Korea vowed to closely monitor the launch -- after UN Security Council censure of its own rocket launch in April.

Pyongyang stated North Korea was doing nothing more than putting a peaceful communications satellite into orbit and was unjustly punished for its April 5 launch. Washington officials said no North Korean satellite was detected in orbit and that its launch was a disguised test of a Taepodong-2 missile.

North Korea wants Seoul's launch also to be referred to the Security Council. Seoul, however, insists its own project is purely scientific.

Last week, the U.S. State Department said that South Korea -- in contrast to the North -- had developed its program transparently and in keeping with international agreements.

Seoul's rocket launch has seen seven delays since 2005. It was built and operated in partnership with Russia. A software problem halted last week's countdown at the 8-minute mark.

South Korea, which entered Asia's space race relatively late, has invested $419 million and much national pride in the 108-foot rocket.

The rocket's first stage of production started in Russia and local engineers in South Korea finished the second stage. The country had previously sent 10 satellites into space using launch vehicles from other countries.

South Korean officials hope the rocket will boost the country's aim to become a regional space power, along with China, Japan and India.


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