SEOUL: South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured space rocket into orbit on Thursday, sending a 1.5-tonne cargo into orbit as part of its efforts to join the ranks of advanced spacefaring nations.
The South Korean flag-emblazoned Korea Space Launch Vehicle II, dubbed Nuri, soared skyward from the launch site in Goheung, trailed by a column of flame.
“It appears to be soaring into the sky without issue,” one observer said. “We’ve already accomplished so much on our first try,” says the author.
The three-stage rocket successfully launched its false satellite cargo, according to broadcasters, and the control centre erupted in cheers and clapping.
Legislators in the national assembly paused their work to witness the launch.
South Korea has risen from the ashes of war to become the world’s 12th largest economy and a technologically advanced country, home of Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone and memory chip manufacturer.
However, it has trailed behind the Soviet Union in the headline-grabbing realm of spaceflight, where the Soviet Union led the way with the first satellite launch in 1957, followed by the United States.
China, Japan, and India all have sophisticated space programmes in Asia, and North Korea, the South’s nuclear-armed neighbour, is the newest member of the club of countries with their own satellite launch capabilities.
Similar technology is used in ballistic missiles and space rockets, and Pyongyang sent a 300-kilogram (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012, which Western countries denounced as a covert missile test.
Only six countries, including North Korea, have successfully launched a one-tonne payload on their own rockets to yet.
The Nuri rocket, which has three stages and costs 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion), has been in development for a decade. It weighs 200 tonnes and is 47.2 metres (155 feet) in length, with six liquid-fueled engines.
Aiming for the Moon
However, South Korea’s space programme has a checkered history: its first two launches, which utilised Russian technology in part, both failed, with the second one exploding two minutes into the mission and Seoul and Moscow blaming one other.
A 2013 launch was eventually successful, although it still relied on a Russian-developed engine for the first stage.
The satellite launch sector is rapidly being dominated by private firms, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has clients such as NASA and the South Korean military.
Nuri, on the other hand, gave South Korea “unlimited” possibilities, according to one analyst.
Private companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are fast gaining a foothold in the satellite launch industry, with clients including NASA and the South Korean military.
According to one expert, Nuri provided South Korea with “infinite” options.
After inspecting a Nuri engine test in March, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated he wanted to launch a lunar orbiter next year, and Thursday’s mission is one step in that direction.
“The government will pursue an aggressive space exploration initiative,” he added, citing advances in South Korean rocket systems.
“By 2030, we will have realised our ambition of landing a probe on the Moon.”
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