South Korea launched its first domestically developed space rocket on Thursday but failed to put its dummy payload into orbit, a setback in the country’s attempts to join the ranks of advanced space-faring nations.
The Korea Space Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri and emblazoned with a South Korean flag, rose upwards from Goheung on the southern coast, trailing a column of flame.
All three stages of the rocket worked, taking it to an altitude of 700 kilometres, and the 1.5-tonne payload separated successfully, President Moon Jae-in said after watching the launch at the control centre.
But “putting a dummy satellite into orbit remains an unfinished mission”, he announced.
“Though it fell short of achieving its goals perfectly, we have achieved very good feats with our first launch.” Another attempt will be made in May, he added.
“Countries that lead in space technology will lead the future. And we are not too late to do it.”
The mission failed because the third-stage engine stopped burning 46 seconds earlier than scheduled, science minister Lim Hye-sook told reporters. Cheering and applause had earlier broken out in the control centre as the flight seemed to proceed according to plan.
South Korea has risen from the ashes of war to become the world’s 12th-largest economy and a technologically advanced nation, home to the planet’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics.
But it has lagged in the headline-making world of spaceflight, where the Soviet Union led the way with the first satellite launch in 1957, closely followed by the United States.
In Asia, China, Japan and India all have advanced space programmes, and the South’s nuclear-armed neighbour North Korea was the most recent entrant to the club of countries with their own satellite launch capability. Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogramme satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Western countries condemned as a disguised missile test.
Even now, only six nations — not including North Korea — have successfully launched a one-tonne payload on their own rockets.