(ATTN: ADDS President Moon's remarks in last 8 paras; ADDS photo)
By Chae Yun-hwan and Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's plan to launch its first homegrown rocket later this year is on a roll after researchers successfully conducted the final combustion test for its main first-stage engines, the science ministry said Thursday.
The Ministry of Science and ICT said the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) successfully ran the third and final test for the four 75-ton liquid engines of the 200-ton rocket, named Nuri, at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, 473 kilometers south of Seoul.
Local researchers will now test the locally developed three-stage rocket's launch pad until July and complete assembly of the rocket's flight model before its planned launch with a mock payload in October.
Nuri's second launch, which aims to carry a 1.5-ton satellite, is slated for May next year.
South Korea has been seeking to develop a homegrown space launch vehicle since 2010, earmarking nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion). While the country launched its two-stage Naro rocket in 2013, its first stage was built in Russia.
Nuri has suffered setbacks in development, such as changes in the first stage's assembly process and delays in acquiring parts, prompting South Korea last year to push back its launch originally set for February.
"I am so proud. Congratulations!" President Moon Jae-in said after making an on-site inspection of the testing.
Based on the accomplishment, he added, the government will push aggressively for the development of South Korea's first lunar orbiter.
After launching it next year, South Korea aims to make its dream of landing on the moon with its own projectile come true by 2030, he said.
"The technology, experience, and confidence that we will gain from the exploration of the moon, which is the first step in space exploration, will serve as a solid foundation for space development," he stressed.
Moon reaffirmed plans to accelerate the development and use of various satellites by supporting civilian-led space projects.
He pointed out that South Korea has become able to develop solid-propellant space rockets under the missile guidelines with the United States revised in 2020.
Cheong Wa Dae, meanwhile, stated that the successful combustion test on the day represents the "de facto completion" of the three-stage Nuri rocket development.
"It went through the same procedure as when the projectile will actually be fired," Cheong Wa Dae deputy spokesperson Lim Se-eun said at a press briefing.
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