South Korea has launched a commercial-grade satellite for the first time using a domestically produced space rocket, marking a major step in its efforts to become a key player in an intensifying space race with its Asian neighbours.
The Nuri rocket lifted off from Naro Space Center on the southern coast of South Korea at 6:24pm (09:24 GMT) on Thursday, in its third flight after the launch scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled due to technical difficulties.
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President Yoon Suk-yeol touted the launch as a major step that places South Korea among the top seven countries that have put domestically produced satellites into orbit with their domestically built space launch vehicles.
“This will greatly change the way the world sees South Korea’s space science technology and its advanced industry,” Yoon said.
On Wednesday, the ministry had called off a planned launch just hours before the scheduled time citing technical problems, which officials described as communication errors within the system that controls a helium tank on the launch pad.
They said that issue was fixed after work overnight.
The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri is the country’s first domestically built space launch vehicle using only South Korean rocket technology, and three more flights are expected by 2027.
The Nuri is key to the country’s ambitious plans to jumpstart its nascent space programme and boost progress in 6G networks, spy satellites and even lunar probes.
Seoul also plans to launch military satellites, but has ruled out any weapons use for the Nuri. With a heated arms race in Asia, space launches have long been a delicate issue.
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was seeking to develop more sophisticated weapons systems, including a spy satellite, to cope with what he calls intensifying US and South Korean hostilities.
Analysts say Kim wants to use an expanded weapons arsenal to win greater concessions from Washington in future dealings.