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South Korea set for first orbital launch attempt

Posted: August 4, 2009

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South Korea's space agency has announced it will attempt to fly its first satellite launcher next week, pending final reviews and tests.

If successful, the milestone flight would put South Korea in an elite club of spacefaring nations with a domestic orbital launch capability.

The new rocket, made from Russian and South Korean parts, could lift off as soon as Aug. 11 from the new Naro Space Center at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, about 300 miles south of Seoul.

The KSLV 1 rocket sits on its launch pad during ground tests earlier this year. Credit: KARI
Engineers plan to move the 108-foot-tall rocket to the launch pad about two days prior to liftoff, where the vehicle will be lifted vertically by an erector system.

A practice countdown is on tap the day before launch, according to South Korean news reports.

The rocket can take off between Aug. 11 and Aug. 18, officials said.

Officials will try to orbit a 219-pound technology demonstration satellite using the new hybrid booster, which is called the Korea Space Launch Vehicle 1.

The KSLV 1 uses a first stage developed by Moscow-based Khrunichev, the builder of Russia's Proton rocket.

The kerosene-fueled stage was developed for Russia's next-generation Angara booster, a modular design engineers hope will haul small, medium-sized, and heavy satellites into orbit.

But Angara's development has been stymied by a series of delays, and the first stage of the new rocket will make its maiden flight from South Korea.

Propelled by an RD-191 main engine, the first stage will produce about 430,000 pounds of sea level thrust at liftoff.

Launch was delayed from July 30 to give Khrunichev engineers more time to complete testing on the new rocket. Officially named the Angara Universal Rocket Module, the first stage was test fired last Thursday at the company's development center near Moscow.

South Korea began working on the new rocket in 2002 and originally hoped to launch the booster in 2005.

After early development trouble, Khrunichev signed on to the KSLV 1 project in 2004, spearheading the first stage and construction of the Naro launch site in Jeolladam-do province in the southwestern part of the country.

The rocket's design and construction has cost about $400 million, according to Korean officials.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute provided a small solid-fueled second stage to inject payloads into orbit.