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South Korea, Russia partner for historic satellite launch

Posted: January 30, 2013

South Korea officials said Wednesday they succeeded in launching a small satellite aboard part-Russian, part-Korean rocket, marking the first time the rising Asian power has launched a spacecraft into orbit from its own soil.

The Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle lifted off at 4 p.m. local time from the Naro Space Center in South Korea.
The 108-foot-tall Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle, or KSLV 1, ignited its Russian main engine at 0700 GMT (2 a.m. EST) and rose from a launch pad at the Naro Space Center, a facility in South Jeolla province about 300 miles south of Seoul.

The 300,000-pound launcher rapidly conducted a pitch maneuver to head south from the space center, which is situated on the southwest tip of the Korean peninsula.

Launch occurred at 4 p.m. local time.

The rocket appeared to smoothly soar into a clear afternoon sky in live Korean news broadcasts from the launch site. The flight's timeline called for the rocket to surpass the speed of sound within 55 seconds of liftoff, jettison its aerodynamic nose cone and release the Russian first stage less than four minutes into the mission.

The KSLV's solid-fueled upper stage, provided by South Korea, was programmed to fire for about one minute to inject the 200-pound STSAT 2C demonstration satellite into orbit.

Government officials broke into applause and exchanged handshakes at the expected time of spacecraft separation 9 minutes after liftoff. Boisterous cheers erupted from a crowd of spectators gathered outside the Naro Space Center.

South Korean science minister Lee Ju-Ho declared the launch a success in a press conference one hour after liftoff. Lee said the rocket placed its payload in the intended orbit, according to the Korean Broadcasting System.

Khrunichev, a Russian contractor responsible for the rocket's first stage, issued a press release Wednesday proclaiming the booster put its payload in orbit.

But officials cautioned it would take more than 12 hours to confirm the health of the STSAT 2C spacecraft, which was expected to fly over a Korean communications station around 2000 GMT (3 p.m. EST) Wednesday.

The launcher was programmed to put the STSAT 2C satellite in a 186-mile by 932-mile orbit, where the craft would test new space technologies and monitor plasma and radiation levels in low Earth orbit.

The apparently successful mission comes after two botched launches destroyed their payloads in 2009 and 2010.

While South Korea contended with public delays and technical snags, its northern neighbor sent its first satellite into orbit in December after its own series of failures.

South Korea becomes the 11th country to launch its own satellite into orbit, but the feat was not accomplished without international help.

Russia's space contractor Khrunichev developed the KSLV 1's first stage, and the booster's kerosene-fueled RD-151 main engine was built by NPO Energomash, a Russian manufacturer of rocket engines.

Khrunichev's contribution to the KSLV 1 booster is based on the universal rocket stage designed for Russia's Angara launcher, which the country envisions will carry a wide range of satellites to space when it becomes operational.

The RD-151 main engine is a smaller version of engines used on Ukrainian Zenit and U.S. Atlas 5 rockets.

TsENKI, a corporation owned by the Russian government, was responsible for constructing the Naro Space Center's launch pad.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute, in conjunction with private firms, designed and built the KSLV 1's solid-fueled upper stage and payload fairing.

According to the Yonhap news agency, South Korea has spent nearly $500 million on the rocket project since 2002.

Wednesday's launch was the third flight conducted under a 2004 agreement between South Korea and Russia.

South Korea is working on an indigenous engine to power an all-Korean satellite launcher for a planned test flight in 2021.