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S. Korea's failed satellite launch sets back space effort

After its launch on a Russian-made rocket, the satellite missed its required trajectory. S. Korea has taken an aggressive stand in staying technologically in step with its neighbors.

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The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 blasts off from the Naro Space Centre in Goheung, south of Seoul, on Tuesday.

Reuters

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South Korea suffered an embarrassing failure Tuesday to put a satellite into orbit via a Russian-made rocket. Crowds cheered the launch of the rocket carried live on all national TV networks, but the government soon had to explain a disappointment in space.

After the immense buildup for what would have been the first satellite put into space from South Korean soil, officials said the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 had gone far beyond the requisite trajectory for the satellite.

The education and science minister, Ahn Byong-man, in a facesaving comment to the South Korean media, called the launch, postponed seven times, a "half-success," since the rocket had roared off from the Naro Space Center pad as planned. He indicated, moreover, that South Korea would go through with another planned launch within a year.

"It may be a tremendous disappointment," says Kim Tae-woo, vice president and nuclear policy specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "South Korea failed on the first attempt."

Mr. Kim, notes, however, that the success ratio for launching satellites from other countries "is less than 30 percent," that South Korea has launched satellites from elsewhere, and that two of them are still functioning.

"South Korea is already at an international level in manufacturing those satellites," he says. "We have to continue exploration of space."

Implications for proliferation

The launch was intended to make South Korea the 10th nation to put a satellite into orbit from its own soil. The plan became a matter of controversy in view of the implications for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as North Korea's launch of a long-range missile in April that the North said was carrying a satellite.

South Korea turned to Russia to build the two-stage rocket needed to send the satellite into orbit after the United States, 10 years ago, banned the transfer of the technology as a violation of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

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