S Korea's first rocket lifts off

Scientists say space programme has peaceful motives despite warnings from North Korea.

    North Korea has bristled at UN sanctions imposed after its April launch, which US intelligence officials say did not place a satellite in orbit but in reality was cover for a test of long-range missile technology.

    Series of delays

    Tuesday's South Korean launch took place after a series of delays put a hold on previous attempts.

    Last week blast-off was aborted with just minutes to go after technicians discovered a software fault.

    Ahead of the launch scientists had warned the first seconds of flight would be crucial as the main engine pushes the 140-tonne rocket off the launch pad.

    "If there is a sudden gust of strong wind or any other slight problem in the stabilisation mechanism, the rocket can tip over and be lost," Min Kyung-Ju, head of the Naro Space Centre, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

    'Successful launch'

    A successful launch would make South Korea only the 10th nation in the world to send a satellite into orbit from its own soil.

    Although the rocket's powerful first stage was Russian-made, South Korean experts said they had gained valuable know-how that could enable them to build their own launch vehicle in its entirety by 2018.

    SOUTH KOREA'S SPACE DREAMS

    Two-stage rocket dubbed Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), aims to launch 100-kg satellite that will monitor Earth's radiant energy.

     Expected launch comes after 20 years of research and development that started with small, rudimentary solid-fuel machines.

     Rocket is 33 metres long and can generate 170 tonnes of thrust.

     Built at a cost of $400m in co-operation with Russia's Khrunichev space production centre which built main thrusters for first stage.

     South Korea aims to build a rocket completely on its own by 2018 and launch a probe to the moon by 2025, eventually sending its own astronauts into space.

    Neighbouring North Korea launched its own three-stage rocket on April 5 claiming it sent a communications satellite into orbit, but there were doubts the mission succeeded.

    The United States, Japan and others have called Pyongyang's rocket launch a cover for test of long-range missile technology.

    The UN Security Council also condemned the launch, saying it was a violation of resolutions banning North Korea from ballistic missile-related activity.

    The North responded by expelling inspectors and withdrawing from six-party talks on the disarmament of its nuclear programme.

    Ahead of Tuesday's launch Won Tae-jae, a South Korea defence ministry spokesman, defended his country's space programme saying the launch vehicle differed vastly from the North's controversial rocket launches.

    He told reporters during a regular briefing that the development of South Korea's space launch vehicle has been responsible and open to the international community.

    "On that matter, we are not accused of launching a ballistic missile," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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