|Sequential photos depict the Naro-1 exploding in midair two minutes after its launch at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla, yesterday. [JoongAng Ilbo]|
What started with cheers turned into suspicion and then dismay - all in the course of minutes.
The Naro-1, the first Korean-made rocket, fell into the sea in pieces only 137 seconds after its launch yesterday, according to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, dashing Korea’s hopes of becoming the world’s 10th country to shoot off a satellite. The rocket - Korea’s second attempt to get a satellite in space, after a failed liftoff last August - failed a day after a glitch with a fire-extinguisher system suspended the Naro-1’s planned launch.
In a briefing, the ministry said the satellite is estimated to have exploded at an altitude of 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) only 137.19 seconds after liftoff at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla. “Based on a flash caught on a camera installed on the upper part of Naro-1 at the time when communications with the satellite were cut off, we believe that the rocket exploded when the first-stage rocket was in the process of combusting,” said Ahn Byong-man, minister of education, science and technology. “As soon as the exact cause is determined, we will announce it and then prepare for the third trial for the launch.”
Ahn said Korea and Russia will form a joint investigation squad to look into what brought the rocket down. Naro-1 was designed in Korea with Russian help, and the Russians built the first stage of the two-stage rocket. The Korean government spent 502.5 billion won ($402.6 million) to develop it.
“I can’t believe this,” said Jung Eun-sun, a 36-year-old mother from Nokdong-myeon, Goheung County, South Jeolla. Jung was one of about 1,000 spectators from across the country who had gathered at Namyeol Beach, 15 kilometers away from the center. “I thought watching this historic moment would be a better educational opportunity than being at school, so I had my daughter skip class to bring her here. It’s so disappointing,” she said.
The explosion marks the second failure to launch the Naro-1, after a technical glitch during the Aug. 25, 2009, attempt kept the rocket from releasing the Scientific and Technology Satellite 2. The rocket’s protective shields (called fairings) failed to open on command. Experts said that at an altitude of 70 kilometers, where Naro-1 exploded yesterday, the fairings would not yet have opened. Had the launch succeeded, it would have been the 12th Korean satellite to lift off. Korea entered the space race when it launched the Woori 1 research satellite in Latin America in August 1992. Experts said failure is not uncommon during rocket launches. According to local data, the five space science powerhouses - the United States, Russia, Europe, China and Japan - have failed to lift off satellites around 400 times in the past.
But yesterday’s failure could disrupt the government’s ambition to join in space exploration, experts said. Earlier,
The government had said that it plans to develop the Naro-2, or Korea Space Launch Vehicle-2, using all domestic technologies, by 2018. It has earmarked more than 1 trillion won for the project.
Economic damage from the failure would be not insignificant, experts said. In a report released Wednesday, the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade said the economic benefit from the launch could reach 2.4 trillion won.
By Moon Gwang-lip, Yu Ji-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]