If all goes well, mission controllers are looking at a launch about two weeks later.

The 33 metre-high KSLV-1 rocket has been built with Russian help after requests for technical assistance from the US, South Korea's closest ally, were reportedly turned down.

According to officials, South Korea spent almost $400m acquiring Russian rocket technology, with Russia contributing much of the development work in the rocket's first stage.

"We experienced a lot of difficulties in securing technology cooperation from developed countries," Park Jeong-Joo, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, told journalists during a recent briefing.
 
"Russia turned out to be the most cooperative and willing partner in transferring technology and it has highly developed space technology."

Dual use

South Korea's spacefaring plans are believed to have raised concerns in Washington, which is worried that the programme could inflame already strained relations on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea's rocket launch in April was widely seen as cover for a missile test [EPA]
Although South Korean scientists insist the space programme has purely peaceful ambitions, much of the technology involved in space flight has dual use capability in missiles.

Under a security pact with the US, South Korea is restricted to possessing missiles with a maximum range of 300km.

The South Korean rocket launch also comes just months after rival North Korea carried out what it says was a successful satellite launch.

According to North Korean media the April launch of a three-stage rocket placed an experimental satellite into orbit, but US and other intelligence agencies say they have not detected any such satellite.

Instead the North Korean launch is widely believed to have been a cover for a test of the country's longest-range missile, which is theoretically capable of hitting targets as far away as the US west coast.

In response to the launch the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions against North Korea, prompting Pyongyang to ratchet up tensions yet further by walking out of disarmament talks and conducting a nuclear test.

Space race

South Korea is the latest nation to join an escalating Asian space race.

Japan, China and India all have active space programmes and in 2003 China launched its first astronaut becoming only the third nation in the world capable of manned space flight.

Last year South Korea sent its first astronaut into space aboard a Russian spacecraft, and the country has also announced plans to send probes to orbit and land on the moon.