SEOUL — South Korea said it successfully launched a small but working satellite into orbit using its first homemade rocket on Tuesday, bringing the country closer to its dream of becoming a new player in the space industry. and deploy its own spy satellites to better track the north. Korea.
The three-stage Nuri rocket, built by the government’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute along with hundreds of local companies, took off from the Naro Space Center in Goheung on South Korea’s southwestern tip at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Seventy minutes after launch, South Korea announced that Nuri had successfully propelled a 357-pound working satellite and a 1.3-ton dummy satellite into orbit 435 miles above Earth.
It was a moment of national pride, with the kick-off being shown live on all of the country’s major TV stations, as well as its YouTube science channels. Leading up to the launch, the government and local media had announced the Nuri mission as a momentous event that would see South Korea gain a foothold in space technology, the latest high-tech market where the country has decided to become a player. †
“South Korea’s science and technology have made a big step forward today,” said Lee Jong-ho, the government’s science and technology minister, announcing the success of the mission at a national news conference. “We have laid the groundwork for launching our own satellites whenever we want, no longer depending on rockets and launch stations from other countries.”
South Korea has for decades aspired to join the elite club of countries that can launch communications and other satellites into orbit using domestic missiles. It also wanted to send its own surveillance satellites into space to better monitor a growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.
After multiple delays and failures, South Korea launched its first research and development satellite into orbit in 2013. But the two-stage rocket used for that mission – Naro – was built jointly with Russia. South Korea spent nearly 1.9 trillion won ($1.5 billion) to develop the 200-ton Nuri, also known as the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-II, with its proprietary technology.
In Nuri’s first test launch last October, the rocket propelled a 1.5-ton dummy satellite into space 434 miles above Earth. But it ran into a problem in its oxidation tank and burned out ahead of schedule, preventing the dummy satellite from gaining enough speed to stabilize and stay in orbit.
At the second test launch on Tuesday, Nuri not only had a 1.3-ton dummy satellite on board, but also a 357-pound performance verification satellite. This was the first time South Korea has launched a real working satellite aboard a domestic missile.
The performance verification satellite will help scientists prepare to launch more satellites in the future by testing an antenna, generator and other satellite components and transmitting the orbital data to Earth, said Ahn Sang-il, a senior researcher at Korea Aerospace Research. Institute .
Attached to the performance verification satellite were four CubeSats, mini-research satellites, built by South Korean universities. These, weighing between 7 and 21 pounds, will be released into orbit one at a time from June 29.
South Korea plans to conduct four more test launches of the Nuri system through 2027, including one scheduled for early next year. It is also developing a new missile that is more than twice as powerful as Nuri. The country aims to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon with its own rocket by the early 2030s.
South Korea hopes to build next-generation satellite-based navigation and communications networks with its own missile technologies. It also aims to capture a portion of the global satellite launch market. Most rocket launches around the world have been carried out by the United States, Russia, France, China, Japan and India.
Until now, South Korea has relied on other countries to transport its satellites. South Korea used a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, last July to launch its first military communications satellite into orbit. It plans to send a lunar orbiter this fall, also aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
The launch on Tuesday marked an arms race in the Korean peninsula. South Korea has no military spy satellites of its own, but instead relies on US satellites to keep an eye on North Korea. However, as the North’s missile threats have increased, South Korea has been looking to place its own “eyes and ears” in space with its own missiles.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un told a Workers’ Party meeting last year that his government had completed the design of a military reconnaissance satellite. He said his country would deploy the satellite in the near future.
The United Nations Security Council has banned North Korea from launching space missiles because it said they were used by Pyongyang to develop long-range missiles. In spite of this ban, North Korea launched satellite space vehicles before successfully testing three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017.
According to US and South Korean officials, it conducted six missile tests involving ICBMs or ICBM components between February 27 and May 25. In the first two of those tests, North Korea said it was testing a satellite launch vehicle.
North Korea has accused South Korea and the United States of “double standards” for expanding their own space programs, while condemning the North’s space projects as fronts for a weapons program.