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Technical glitch grounds Naro-1 rocket

Fire equipment malfunctions three hours before lift-off, no new date yet

June 10,2010
Spectators and marine police on a patrol ship are disappointed to learn their chance to view the lift-off of Korea’s first space rocket, Naro-1, was nixed due to a launch-pad glitch at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla, yesterday. [YONHAP]

The much-anticipated second attempt to launch the Naro-1, South Korea’s first space rocket, was suspended yesterday due to a technical fault. A rescheduling for the launch has yet to be finalized, the ministry said.

It was the first attempt in 10 months to send off the rocket, which will try to put a 100-kilogram (220-pound) research satellite into orbit - along with Korea’s ambitions to be a space powerhouse - since a botched mission last August.

The suspension came around three hours before the blast-off time of 5 p.m. at the Naro Space Center in Go-heung, South Jeolla.

“The launch was suspended after a malfunction of a fire protection system, which is for putting out fires in case of an accident, around 2 p.m.,” said Pyun Kyung-bum, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. “The fire protection system is designed to spread foam mixed with chemicals in case of an oil spill and fire. There was a malfunction when one of the three fire-extinguishing nozzles started spreading foam.”

The spokesman said a group of scientists from Korea and Russia were investigating the malfunction and a new date for the launch will be decided after the investigation concludes.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, Vice Science Minister Kim Jung-hyun said in a media briefing that a rehearsal on Tuesday found no errors in either the rocket or launch pad, and confirmed the launch at 5 p.m.

The delay is not the first time. In last year’s attempt, the launch of the rocket was initially scheduled for 5 p.m. on Aug. 19, but eight minutes before the launch, a technical glitch was found, pushing the launch six days back.

The attempt on Aug. 25, 2009 ended in failure, with the rocket failing to release the satellite, Scientific and Technology Satellite 2, because its protective shields failed to open on command.

Delays in rocket launches are not unusual overseas. The launch of India’s GSLV was halted just one second before taking off in 2001 after its automatic control system detected a malfunction in the liquid-engine. Japan’s H2A rocket also malfunctioned and had a lift-off delayed in 2003. Endeavor, the U.S. space shuttle, also experienced several delays before one of its launches in 2009.

Naro-1, which weighs 140 tons and stands 33 meters (108 feet) tall, is the first Korean-made rocket, with assistance from Russia, which provided the first stage of the two-stage rocket. The Korean government spent 502.5 billion won ($400.4 million) to develop it.

A success will make Korea the world’s 10th country to put a domestically made satellite into space using a domestically made rocket. The satellite, Science Technology Satellite 2, was co-developed by Kaist and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]



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