GOHEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) -South Korea’s first domestically built space rocket blasted off on Thursday in a test launch that represents a major leap for the country’s ambitious space plans.
The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri rocket, emblazoned with the national flag, carried a dummy satellite on its launch from the Naro Space Center at 5 p.m. (0800 GMT).
The Nuri, or “world”, rocket is designed to put 1.5-tonne payloads into orbit 600 km to 800 km (373 miles to 497 miles) above Earth, as part of a broader space effort that envisages the launch of satellites for surveillance, navigation, and communications, and even lunar probes.
Overseen by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the 200-tonne rocket was moved to its launch pad on Wednesday and raised into position.
The rocket’s three stages are powered by liquid-fuel boosters built by an affiliate of South Korea’s Hanwha conglomerate, with a cluster of four 75-tonne boosters in the first stage, another 75-tonne booster in the second, and a single 7-tonne rocket engine in the final stage.
Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programme.
South Korea’s plans call for launching a range of military satellites in future, but officials deny that the NURI has any use as a weapon itself.
The country’s last such rocket, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.
Having its own launch vehicle will give South Korea the flexibility to determine payload types and launch schedules, and benefits South Korean companies, officials told Reuters.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)
Editor’s comment: while it is exciting to witness another major economy heading into space, it is also worrying. With so many countries in space it is hard to believe that all will be well and harmonious. Space could become the new ‘Wild West.’ It would be nice to think that this will not happen. But, we are humans, after all.