South Korea aborted the launch of its first space rocket about eight minutes before its scheduled lift-off on due to a technical glitch, delaying a move that has threatened to rile neighbouring North Korea.
Officials believe a problem with one of the tanks may have triggered an automatic abort system and said fuel had been removed from the booster rocket, indicating at least several days are needed to prepare it again for launch, Reuters reports.
The launch was expected to rile prickly North Korea, which was hit by UN sanctions after it fired off a long-range rocket in April in what was widely seen as a disguised missile test.
Pyongyang, which chastised the world body for the punishment, said earlier this month it was paying close attention to the South’s rocket.
The countdown was halted by the automated launch system and engineers would be sifting through data to look for the cause of the glitch, a space agency official said.
“There was loss of pressure in the high-pressure tank that operates the launch vehicle valves,” Lee Sang-mok, a science ministry official overseeing the project, told a news briefing.
South Korea, which has relied on other countries to launch its satellites, had planned to send a domestically built scientific satellite into orbit on the rocket called the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, which is also known as Naro-1.
The Naro-1 is 33 meters (108 ft) long and the two-stage rocket was built at a cost of 502.5 billion won ($400 million) (R3232 million). Russia built the first-stage booster and had provided technical support to the South.
The rocket was placed back on a support pad at the South’s space centre, located about 350 km (220 miles) south of Seoul.
An expert at the Korea Aerospace University, Chang Young-keun, said glitches of this type were not uncommon and they could range from a simple software bug to major hardware issues.
“As for the setbacks, Korea is in the position of learning from Russia because they are the leading authorities in this kind of launch,” he said. “To be precise, this is a delay.”
South Korea wants to build a rocket on its own by 2018 and send a probe to monitor the moon by 2025. It also wants to develop a commercial service to launch satellites.
But its nascent space program lags far behind Japan, China, India, and to some extent North Korea. Seoul is betting that a successful will give it the technical prowess to catch up quickly with its rivals.
South Korea’s space agency has tried to play down expectations for the launch, saying in a report that only about 30 % of countries’ first attempts to put a satellite into orbit succeed.
Pic: Space Launch