By Baek Byung-yeul, Joint Press Corps
|The Nuri space rocket lifts off from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. Joint Press Corps|
While the intended outcome was not realized, the government and experts said the test launch has helped the country secure core engine technologies that moves the country a step closer to joining the league of global space powerhouses.
Nuri, or the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II (KSLV II), lifted off from Goheung, 500 kilometers south of Seoul, and flew to an altitude of 700 kilometers, however, the 1.5-ton dummy satellite failed to be placed into orbit.
Weighing 200 tons and measuring 47.2 meters long, the three-stage Nuri is powered by six liquid-fuelled engines ― a cluster of four in its first stage, and single engines in its second and third stages. The government spent 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion) in development costs.
The Ministry of Science and ICT said the KSLV II was launched from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, at 5 p.m., and while its first and second stages separated as planned, the third stage failed to place the payload into orbit.
President Moon Jae-in, who visited the launch site, said he expects the country will be able to achieve a complete success at the second Nuri launch scheduled for May 2022.
"The Nuri didn't perfectly attain its goal, but it has done a very good job in its first launch," he said. "If we check things and make up for what we lacked today, we will surely achieve a perfect success in our second launch in May next year."
"Satellites are increasingly used not only for broadcasting, communication and GPS, but also for environmental and disaster responses. We already manufacture and operate practical satellites on our own, but we have had to use launch vehicles from other countries. Now we can put our satellites into space with our own launch vehicles," the President said.
Moon added that the launch has paved the way for the country to become a prominent player in the space industry, saying a country spearheading development in the space industry will lead the future.
Scientists analyzing the launch said that it will increase attention paid to the aerospace industry.
"It is difficult to quantitatively evaluate the economic ripple effects of the Nuri space rocket in various industrial fields," an official from the science ministry said. "Securing independent space launch capability means the country will be able to launch satellites at any time, and thus we can expect various economic and industrial effects from this."
Though the KSLV II had been scheduled for launch at 4:00 p.m., this was delayed by one hour. "It took additional time to check valves inside the launch vehicle," the science ministry said in explaining the delay.
The ministry said a second test launch is scheduled for May, 2022, and after that there will be four additional ones through 2027 to improve reliability. When the tests are completed, Korea will be able to launch satellites at any time, a huge difference from its current status of having to pay other countries to put payloads into orbit.
Officials noted that the Nuri/KSLV II was the result of collaborations across local industries, academia and research institutes, and hundreds of local researchers and engineers took part in its development.
Led by the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), around 300 companies participated in the project. In particular, Hanwha Aerospace led the development of the liquid-fueled rocket engines, and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Doowon Heavy Industrial took part in developing the rocket's external structure. The mobile launch platform was developed by Hyundai Heavy Industries.
Korea is a global technology powerhouse ― home to the world's top two memory chipmakers Samsung and SK Hynix, and top-tier automaker Hyundai Motor Group. However, it lags far behind its global peers in terms of advancing into space exploration.
The country attempted to launch rockets in 2009 and 2010, but these were in vain with the second one exploding just minutes after take-off. In 2013, Korea successfully launched its first-ever rocket, Naro, but the first stage was built in Russia.
Government officials said there are plans to send a probe to the moon by 2030.
"Now, a new era of space exploration has opened. Over the past decade, the global space industry has more than doubled, and space development itself has become an industry. It is already a reality that ordinary people are sightseeing in space. A country that leads in space development will lead the future. The government will invest in the long-term so that Korea can become a space powerhouse," Moon said.