South Korea launched its first space rocket carrying a science satellite yesterday amid heightened regional tensions, caused in part by North Korea’s successful launch of its own rocket last month.
It was South Korea’s third attempt to launch a civilian rocket to send a satellite in orbit in the past four years and it came after two previous launches were aborted at the 11th hour last year due to technical glitches.
The launch vehicle, named Naro, lifted off from South Korea’s space center on the south coast and successfully went through stage separation before entering orbit, officials at mission control said.
Previous launches failed within minutes.
South Korea’s rocket program has angered neighbor North Korea, which says it is unjust for it to be singled out for UN sanctions for launching long-range rockets as part of its space program to put a satellite into orbit.
North Korea’s test last month showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000km, potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.
However, it is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental US.
The test last month was considered a success, at least partially, by demonstrating an ability to put an object in space, but the satellite, as claimed by the North, is not believed to be functioning.
South Korea is already far behind regional rivals China and Japan in the effort to build space rockets to put satellites into orbit, and has relied on other countries, including Russia, to launch them.
Launch attempts in 2009 and 2010 ended in failure.
The first stage booster of the rocket was built by Russia.
South Korea has produced several satellites and has relied on other nations to put them in orbit.
South Korea wants to build a rocket on its own by 2018 and eventually send a probe to the moon.