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(Rocket Launch) (LEAD) Software glitch halts rocket launch: official

All Headlines 13:51 August 20, 2009

By Lee Joon-seung

NARO SPACE CENTER, South Korea, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- The blastoff of South Korea's first rocket was suspended in the eleventh hour due to a minor glitch in its automatic launch system, a government official said Thursday.

The Russian-built rocket carrying a homemade scientific satellite was scheduled to lift off from the Naro Space Center about 485km south of Seoul at 5 p.m. Wednesday, but the countdown stopped with about eight minutes remaining.

"Engineers found the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) had a problem in the software sensor connected to the automatic launch sequence that checks high-pressure tanks," Vice Science and Technology Minister Kim Jung-hyun said.

However, there was no defect in the hardware related to the high-pressure helium tanks designed to control various valves in the rocket, he said, adding that the sensors probably misinterpreted the data it received.

The official, however, said the 40 engineers of the joint South Korean-Russian Flight Test Committee are currently examining the glitch to see what effects it could have on the safety of the launch. The process can take 1-3 days, making it effectively impossible to set another launch date for this week.

South Korea, which has no experience in building space rockets, has been working with Russia to build the KSLV-1, also called the Naro-1.

On setting the new launch date, Kim said that every effort will be made to ensure the launch takes place as soon as possible, although there will be a need review all technical issues and the weather. He hinted that the new liftoff date could be set before Aug. 26.

The official, meanwhile, stressed the KSLV-1 can remain on the launch pad without seriously affecting the rocket's systems for five to six days if there is no serious change in weather conditions. He said that both the fuel and oxidation agent tanks have been emptied.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), which is in overall control of the country's space program, said that if a new liftoff date is fixed, engineers will require at least two days to check all systems and go through the overall launch rehearsal process.

"The countdown will begin at 'D-2' if the rocket remains on the launch pad," said KARI president Lee Joo-jin.

Wednesday's delay marks the seventh time since 2005 that the launch date has been set back due to technical issues and delays in building the launch facilities.

The KSLV-1 stands 33 meters tall with a diameter of 2.9 meters. Its main first stage liquid-fuel rocket made in Russia can generate 170 tons of thrust. The second stage rocket made indigenously can generate 8 tons of thrust and is designed to place the satellite into proper orbit.


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