(ATTN: UPDATES with launch info throughout; RECASTS headline, lead)
SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Tuesday launched its homegrown space rocket Nuri in the second attempt to put satellites into orbit, a critical mission for the country's space program.
The 200-ton Nuri, also known as KSLV-II, blasted off from the Naro Space Center in the country's southern coastal village of Goheung at 4 p.m., according to the Ministry of Science and ICT.
The rocket is expected to finish its flight sequence in a little over 16 minutes and deploy satellites into orbit 700 kilometers above Earth if the launch goes as planned.
South Korea had planned to launch the three-stage rocket last Thursday, but a technical glitch in the oxidizer tank sensor forced the country to postpone the liftoff.
In a meeting of Nuri's launch management committee Monday, the science ministry and KARI concluded Nuri's final technical inspection proceeded without any problems. The weather forecast also satisfied launch conditions.
A successful launch would make South Korea the seventh country in the world to have developed a space launch vehicle that can carry a more than 1-ton satellite, after Russia, the United States, France, China, Japan and India.
It would also mean South Korea will now have secured the key independent technology for developing and launching space rockets carrying homegrown satellites, opening up a new era in the country's space program.
Tuesday's launch would be Nuri's second liftoff after its first attempt ended in failure.
In October, Nuri successfully flew to its target altitude of 700 kilometers but failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit, as its third-stage engine burned out earlier than expected.
KARI engineers reinforced an anchoring device of the helium tank inside Nuri's third-stage oxidizer tank.
This time, Nuri was loaded with a 162.5-kilogram performance verification satellite meant to test the rocket's capabilities, and four cube satellites, developed by four South Korean universities for academic research purposes, along with a 1.3-ton dummy satellite.
South Korea, a relative latecomer to the global space development race, has invested nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion) in building Nuri since 2010. South Korea's rocket launches ended in failures in 2009 and 2010.
In 2013, South Korea successfully launched its first-ever Naro space rocket, though its first stage was built in Russia.
The country aims to conduct four additional Nuri rocket launches by 2027. South Korea has also launched a preliminary feasibility study for the successor to the Nuri with the goal of sending a lunar landing module to the moon in 2031.
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