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S. Korea ahead in satellites, trails North in rocket technology

All Headlines 17:48 April 05, 2009

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is ahead of North Korea in its ability to make satellites, but may trail the communist country in its rocket technology, local experts said Sunday.

North Korea launched its Unha-2 rocket carrying the Kwangmyongsong-2 experimental satellite earlier in the day, and claims to have successfully placed the satellite in orbit.

Aerospace experts at local universities and laboratories said that Pyongyang seems to have made considerable strides in developing a working space launch vehicle, which South Korea has not been able to do so far.

"If reports of where the jettisoned boosters fell are accurate, the Unha-2 has clearly flown further than the 2,750 kilometer range that is the max limit of the rocket being readied by South Korea," a specialist said.

The North Korean rocket is believed to be a three-stage unit, while the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) is a two-stage vehicle.

They said that counting the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-1 experimental satellite by the North in 1998, the communist country has fired two rockets so far.

This is in contrast to South Korea that had to put off launching its Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) repeatedly due to complications in getting parts from China and the slow delivery of the main booster rocket, made by Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

The government wanted to launch the rocket with a satellite late last year from its Naro Space Center but the date has since been rescheduled to late July.

"Seoul had actually wanted to be the ninth country in the world to launch the KSLV-1 from its own soil yet successful firing of a rocket by both Iran and North Korea has upset this plan," a scientist said. Iran fired the Safir-2 rocket in February with North Korea's help.

South Korea, encumbered by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), has only launched shorter range rockets in the past, with the most recent -- of the KSR-II rocket -- taking place in June 1998 . The rocket reached a maximum altitude of 138.4 kilometers.

Experts, however, said that while Seoul may be at a disadvantage in rocket technology, it is clearly in the lead in terms of satellite knowhow.

"After kicking off development in the early 1990s, the country has built and sent into orbit six scientific and multipurpose satellites, including two units that are equipped with high resolution cameras," said a official at state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).

He said for satellites that are placed in low and mid orbit, South Korea has technology levels equivalent to 82 percent of advanced industrialized countries, while for the more hightech satellites that can maintain geo-stationary orbit, its skills were evaluated at 65 percent of leaders.

For this year, Seoul wants to launch a scientific satellite on the KSLV-1 in late July, while planning to shoot off a maritime communication and weather satellite in November.

The North has claimed to have independently launched two satellites, although both may be nothing more than machines that can send rudimentary signals to Earth.

The Ministry of Education, Science and technology said that the longterm buildup plan calls for Seoul to be independent in the design and manufacturing of most satellites by 2022.


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