(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments throughout)
By Lee Joon-seung
NARO SPACE CENTER, South Korea, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean satellite carried by a rocket launched earlier this week was lost shortly after blastoff due to problems in the fairing assembly system, the government said Wednesday.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said that while the first and second stage rockets of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) separated as planned after liftoff from the Naro Space Center at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, one of the two fairings covering the satellite did not fall off properly.
Only one fairing was ejected 216 seconds after launch with the other section remaining in place until the Science and Technology Satellite-2 (STSAT-2) separated from the second stage rocket 540 seconds into the flight, the ministry in charge of the country's science and technology policies said.
"The fairings weigh 300kg or three times more than the scientific satellite, making it effectively impossible for the second stage rocket to generate the necessary thrust to keep the satellite in orbit," said Vice Science and Technology Minister Kim Jung-hyun.
He added that the extra weight also affected stabilization and navigational control that caused the rocket and payload to "tumble" and steer upwards, instead of following a trajectory roughly parallel to the Earth.
The second stage rocket and the satellite reached an altitude of 327km before they separated, slightly higher than the 302km planned, with the latter climbing to a further height of 387km 11 minutes after takeoff.
"After reaching this height, the satellite probably fell to the earth and was destroyed as it re-entered the atmosphere," Kim said, adding it may be impossible to find any remnants of the 100kg satellite.
He added that the STSAT-2's speed before falling to the earth was estimated at 6.2km per second, which is much slower than the 8km per second needed to keep an object in orbit. South Korea has officially called off all efforts to search for the satellite.
Related to the exact cause of the mishap, the senior official said that talks are underway with Russian engineers who provided technical assistance for the entire program.
He said that while South Korea was responsible for building the fairing systems and the second-stage rocket, Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center was the chief coordinator and provided technical assistance used to make the entire rocket, launch pad and control systems. Khrunichev built the first stage rocket.
South Korea, with no experience in building space rockets, worked with Russia to build the KSLV-1 and send the STSAT-2 into space.
The ministry said that it planned to set up a review panel to examine all aspects of Tuesday's launch to ensure that a repeat of the incident does not occur when a second KSLV-1 is launched next May. It said the panel will meet on Friday for the first time.
Working level government officials said Seoul is examining the joint contract governing the rocket launch to see if two more rockets can be launched.
Under the original deal, Russia is obliged to launch two KSLV-1s but must build one more if a launch fails.
Sources, however, hinted without going into details that the provision for one more launch may be restricted to problems caused by the first stage rocket built by Russia and not to parts manufactured by South Korea.
Reflecting this view, international media outlets reported Tuesday that Russia claimed the KSLV-1 performed successfully with no problems.
Local companies like Doowon Heavy Industrial Co., Hankuk Fiber Co. and Hanwha built the fairing section of the rocket.
South Korea spent 502.5 billion won (US$403.5 million) on the KSLV-1 and 13.6 billion won for the scientific satellite built jointly by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology.
State-run KARI, which is in charge South Korea's space exploration efforts, said it had a short film taken from the second stage rocket during the ascent stage that clearly showed a fairing connected to the second stage rocket.
"It is likely that the satellite which ejected from rocket hit the fairing and caused it to fall off at last," said Park Jeong-joo, head of the institutes's KSLV Systems Office. He speculated that the shock of the collision damaged the satellite.
The government, meanwhile, said that it has received information through diplomatic channels that an unidentified object that could be the remnants of a rocket has been found near Darwin, Australia.
It said the exact identity of the object is not known but it could be part of the nozzle of the second stage rocket, made from a special carbon material designed to withstand extreme heat.
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