June 10, 2010

South Korean Rocket Explodes After Launch

A South Korean rocket exploded on Thursday less than three minutes after lift-off, offering another blow to the country's dreams of becoming a big player in the Asian space race.

Science and Technology minister Ahn Byong-Man told reporters the Naro-1 rocket was thout to have blown up 137 seconds after its launch, the same time as ground control lost contact with it.

"The Naro appeared to have exploded in flight," Ahn said, adding that Russian and South Korean engineers were trying to determine the cause.

Head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute Lee Joo-Jin said "a sudden flash" could be seen through a camera mounted on the rocket.

Engineers lost contact with the rocket after 137 seconds when the rocket was at an altitude of 43 miles.  Officials later said it appeared to have exploded.

The scientific satellite was due to separate from the rocket at 187 miles up and deploy its solar panels about nine minutes after lift-off.

"I cannot definitely say now but there appears to have been a problem with the first stage of the rocket," Lee Jae-Woo, a space expert at Seoul's Konkuk University, told YTN television. "Imperfect combustion can be seen."

An earlier launch for the Naro-1 was postponed Wednesday after a fire extinguisher system on the launch pad began leaking.

South Korea has over $400 million invested in the 140-ton rocket.

The liquid-fueled first stage of the rocket was made in Russia, while the second stage was built domestically.

South Korea hopes to gain some ground in the Asian space race.  Since 1992, South Korea has launched 11 satellites from overseas sites, all on foreign-made rockets.

South Korea announced a plan in November 2007 to launch a lunar orbiter by 2020 and send a probe to the Moon five years after that.

The lunar project was announced just a month after China launched its first lunar orbiter and two months after Japan did the same.

Seoul sent its first astronauts into space in April 2008 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Budget and legal constraints will weigh on South Korea even as it tries to move forward with the program, space experts have said.

The country's first attempt failed last August when fairings on the nose cone of the Naro-1 did not open properly so that the satellite could be released.


On the Net: