S.Korea prepares to launch 1st homegrown space launch vehicle

South Korea was on Thursday preparing to launch its first homegrown space launch vehicle in the latest attempt to foster its space program and join the elite global space club.

The KSLV-II, also known as Nuri, is set to blast off from the Naro Space Center in the country’s southern coastal village of Goheung at around 4 p.m., Yonhap News Agency quoted the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) as saying.

The 200-tonne Nuri is intended to put a 1.5-tonne dummy satellite into orbit, a space launch vehicle technology that South Korea has been seeking to acquire for more than a decade for its space program.

If successful, the Nuri rocket will be South Korea’s first space vehicle wholly designed and built in the country.

The planned launch comes amid tensions over North Korea’s test-firing of a new submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Tuesday, the latest in a series of missile launches by the North.

On Thursday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed concerns over “nonsensical” reaction from the US and the UN Security Council over Pyongyang’s “rightful exercise of right to defense”.

Nuri’s success or failure can be determined in around 30 minutes after lift-off, officials at KARI said.

The success rate for newly developed rockets at first attempt is 30 per cent to date, they added.

South Korea’s rocket launches ended in failures in 2009 and 2010.

In 2013, South Korea successfully launched its first-ever Naro space rocket, though its first stage was built in Russia.

South Korea has invested nearly 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) in building the three-stage Nuri since 2010.

The three-stage Nuri rocket uses a clustering of four 75-ton liquid engines in its first stage, a 75-tonne liquid engine in the second stage and a 7-ton liquid engine in the third stage.

A successful launch would make South Korea the seventh country in the world to have developed a space launch vehicle that can carry a more than 1-tonne satellite, after Russia, the US, France, China, Japan and India.

South Korea, a relative latecomer to the global space development race, has recently ramped up efforts in its space program, with plans to launch its first lunar orbiter next year.

The development of homegrown space rocket is crucial as the transfer of missile technology among countries is strictly controlled under international guidelines such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, which South Korea joined in 2001.

South Korea’s rocket development program had previously been limited by bilateral missile guidelines from the US, originally put in place in 1979.

The two allies, however, agreed to scrap the restrictions during a summit in May, ensuring full autonomy in South Korea’s efforts to develop space launch vehicles.

South Korea plans to conduct four more launches of the Nuri until 2027 to increase reliability, KARI said.