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S. Korea's preparations for 2nd rocket launch going smoothly: KARI chief

All Headlines 09:00 December 29, 2009

By Lee Joon-seung

DAEJEON, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- After a first "half-successful" attempt to launch a space rocket in 2009, South Korean engineers' preparations for a second launch are proceeding smoothly with complete success anticipated in the new year, the head of the country's aerospace agency said Tuesday.

Lee Joo-jin, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), said local companies and laboratories have already completed building the second-stage rocket and scientific satellite, while Russia reported it can meet launch schedules set for the first half of 2010.

South Korea launched a 140-ton Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) on Aug. 25 with Russian support, although a problem in the fairing assembly at the tip of the rocket made it impossible for the small satellite to stay in orbit. One of the two fairings did not separate properly during the assent stage.

The rocket, called Naro-1, cost 502.5 billion won (US$427.3 million) to develop and stands 33 meters tall with a diameter of 2.9m.

The second launch is in accordance with a deal signed with Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

"A final report on what caused the satellite to fall back to Earth will be announced by the end of January, and based on this, engineers will move to make the necessary changes and updates," he said.

He speculated that the entire updating process could take two or three months, possibly making it hard to launch the rocket in May as originally anticipated.

Lee said that besides the fairing assembly, local experts are double-checking all flight systems to prevent another mishap.

"No date can be given at present, but if all things move without a serious glitch, the second KSLV-1 launch should take place by June," he said.

Lee stressed that while the public may have been disappointed by the August launch, KARI actually learned a lot from the attempt.

"If the launch had gone smoothly, we would not have checked and rechecked all the telemetry and systems-related data, as we are doing now," the director of the country's space agency said.

He claimed that this thorough reexamination should help not only in the second launch of the Naro-1, but in the country's effort to build its own indigenous rocket, called the KSLV-2, after 2018.

The KARI president emphasized research conducted in the past seven years has allowed the country to acquire valuable technology that other countries do not share as a matter of national security. The know-how was also used to build a kick-motor rocket in the second stage rocket, command and control and inertial navigation systems.

He pointed out that the actual launch of the rocket earlier in the year was a noticeable gain since South Korean scientists and engineers can now view information sent by a rocket and satellite that had reached an altitude of around 370 kilometers from the surface of the planet.

The country that began its space program in the 1990s is 40-50 years behind countries such as the United States and Russia. It built its first space center on Oenaro Island 485km south of Seoul for the Naro-1.

Lee, meanwhile, said that 2010 promises to be a milestone year for the country's space development effort.

"South Korea may not be able to reach levels on par with advanced countries in this field yet, but it can take on roles that are similar to such countries," he said.

The KARI chief said that detailed talks have started with the United States and European countries on joint research in various aspects of space exploration.

"These cover experiments to be conducted on the International Space Station, micro-gravity, and cooperation in the use of satellites," he said.

He said that in the new year, KARI will work out details of cooperative pacts with 10 foreign space agencies and research centers.

The expert said that if South Korea can successfully launch its second space rocket, such a feat can fuel greater tie-ups with foreign partners.

"Using space could involve providing commercial launch services and working together in an international endeavor to monitor weather conditions and climate change and deal with natural disasters," he said.

South Korea aims to place its first weather-communications satellite in orbit in the first half of the year to gather ocean meteorological data. The machine has been sent to France to be launched.

The satellite will be placed in geostationary orbit 36,000km from Earth and will be equipped with a multi-spectrum camera and sensor array that can help monitor typhoons, ocean temperatures, the movement of dust and cloud formations. The information can be used to advance weather forecasts and detect worldwide climate change.

Another satellite, called the Arirang-5, has been built in cooperation with local companies and Italy's Thales Alenia Space and is undergoing tests for launch in late 2010.

This satellite is equipped with a radar array that can search the planet's surface in bad weather conditions and through clouds.

The president, in addition, said many foreign space experts have been impressed with the pace of development of South Korea's space program.

"Just as the country grew quickly from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the most industrialized, there is the belief that it may be able to repeat this feat in the space arena," he said.

On the sharing of information learned through the development of rockets and satellites, Lee said KARI maintains close ties with local companies.

"In effect, 70 percent of all the space institutes's budget goes to private companies engaged in actual production," he said. KARI's annual budget is around 300 billion won.

He said that while there has been no need to ask for patent protection yet, a mechanism is in place that will allow sharing of all jointly developed technologies.

"The private sector has already benefited from the need to make things light and compact on space vehicles and satellites. Technologies used to communicate with satellites and rockets have helped the information technology sector," he claimed.

KARI's director added that delays in space exploration are common, claiming that only 5 percent of all launches occur on time due to the complexity involved in making rockets and satellites.

He said that Seoul is currently in the process of rewriting its long-term space development project that envisions sending a lunar orbital satellite in 2020 and a moon lander in 2025.

The director said that because of budgetary and various restraints, there may be some delays in the lunar development program.

"A revised plan is expected out in March or April that can give a clearer picture of the country's long-term goal to explore space," he said.


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