People watch a news report on the KSLV-II NURI rocket launch in Seoul, South Korea on Oct 21, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-ji)

SEOUL - Reuters
South Korea conducts second test of space rocket after initial failure

South Korea conducted the second test launch of its domestically produced Nuri space rocket on Tuesday (Jun 21), eight months after the first test successfully blasted off but failed to place a dummy satellite in orbit.

The rocket lifted off from Naro Space Center on the southern coast of South Korea at 4pm local time, and officials expected to know about an hour later whether it had successfully placed its payload in orbit.

The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri rocket, designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to eventually put 1.5-ton payloads into orbit 600km to 800km above the Earth, is a cornerstone of the country’s plans to jumpstart its space programme and achieve ambitious goals in 6G networks, spy satellites, and even lunar probes.

It uses only Korean rocket technologies, and is the country's first domestically built space launch vehicle. South Korea’s last booster, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.

In Nuri's first test in October, the rocket completed its flight sequences but failed to put the test payload into orbit after its third-stage engine burned out earlier than planned.

Engineers adjusted the helium tank inside Nuri's third-stage oxidizer tank to address that problem, Yonhap news agency reported.

The stakes were higher in Tuesday's test, as in addition to a dummy satellite, Nuri carried a rocket performance verification satellite and four cube satellites developed by universities for research.

KARI has said it plans to conduct at least four more test launches by 2027.

Nuri is key to South Korean plans to eventually build a Korean satellite-based navigation system and a 6G communications network. The country also plans to launch a range of military satellites, but officials deny that the Nuri has any use as a weapon.

South Korea is also working with the United States on a lunar orbiter, and hopes to land a probe on the moon by 2030.

Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programme.

In March, South Korea's military separately oversaw what it said was its first successful launch of a solid-fuel space-launch rocket, another part of its plans to launch spy satellites.

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