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August 26, 2009

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South Korea suffers space setback

SOUTH Korea launched its first space rocket yesterday but failed to put a scientific satellite into its planned orbit in a setback for the country's nascent space program.

The payload separated from the second-stage booster about eight minutes after lift-off but did not enter its targeted orbit, officials told a briefing at the Goheung space center on South Korea's southern coast, 350 kilometers from Seoul.

"The first-stage engine and the second-stage kick motor operated normally and the satellite separated, but it did not put it precisely in the target orbit," said Science Minister Ahn Byong-man.

Officials could not immediately explain what went wrong or what would happen to the satellite, but they said it did not have a booster mechanism to correct its trajectory.

The officials called the project a "partial success" and said they would continue work on a second launch scheduled for next year.

The launch came on the second attempt after the scheduled lift-off last Wednesday was aborted because of technical problems.

The development of the rocket, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, or Naro-1, depended heavily on Russia's Khrunichev space production center, which built the first-stage booster, conducted tests and provided technical assistance.

The satellite was designed to monitor the Earth's radiant energy.

The Naro-1 was 33 meters long and the two-stage rocket was built at a cost of 502.5 billion won (US$400 million).

South Korea wants to build a rocket on its own by 2018 and send a probe to monitor the moon by 2025. It also wants to develop a commercial service to launch satellites.

South Korea's space agency had tried to play down expectations, saying only about 30 percent of countries' first attempts to put a satellite into orbit succeed.


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