Test of first solid-fuel space rocket succeeds
Korea conducted its first successful launch of a solid-fuel space rocket on Wednesday as part of a project to eventually deploy civilian and military surveillance satellites, the Defense Ministry said.
The launch, conducted by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), took place in Taean, South Chungcheong, 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Seoul and tested a new solid-fuel engine that is designed to put small satellites into a low Earth orbit for surveillance operations.
Solid-fuel rockets are simpler and more cost-effective to launch than liquid-fuel space vehicles. While liquid-fuel rockets typically require 30 days to prepare, solid-based ones can be ready in less than seven, the Defense Ministry said.
According to the ministry, Wednesday’s launch was attended by Defense Minister Suh Wook and other high-ranking military brass who came to observe what the ministry called “an important milestone” in Korea’s development of an independent space reconnaissance capability. The test also came as North Korea's development of space surveillance and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology progresses.
“(The test) comes at a very grave juncture in which North Korea has recently breached its moratorium and launched an ICBM,” the Defense Ministry said, referring to the North’s effective scrapping of a voluntary suspension of nuclear weapons and ICBM testing that had been in place since late 2017.
While the ministry did not explicitly frame Wednesday's test as a response to the North’s recent flurry of longer-range missile tests, the launch of a solid-fuel space vehicle by South Korea follows 12 missile tests by its recalcitrant neighbor this year, including launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 that the North claimed were preparatory tests for putting reconnaissance satellites into space.
U.S. and South Korean officials have since said those tests were experiments for a new ICBM system under development by the North.
“We regard space as a core realm that significantly affects national security, and we will strengthen our space defense capabilities based on inter-service cooperation as soon as possible,” the Defense Ministry added, highlighting the prospect of integration of the country’s space reconnaissance abilities with the branches of the armed forces.
The ministry said that Wednesday’s test was aimed at verifying essential capabilities of the space vehicle, including fairing separation and attitude control features.
The ministry added that it plans to launch an actual satellite mounted on the rocket in the future following additional development.
Future cooperation between the ADD and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute aims to develop a new rocket powered by both liquid- and solid-fuel engines to improve cost-efficiency at different launch stages and increase its payload capacity.
An increased maximum payload can not only allow the mounting of larger satellites, but also heavier and more destructive warheads.
The launch comes less than a year after the United States and South Korea agreed to lift Cold War-era missile guidelines that had restricted South Korea from developing or possessing ballistic missiles with a maximum range greater than 800 kilometers.
The test also comes less than a year after South Korea’s first successful combustion test of a solid-fuel engine for a space rocket in July.
The ministry said it anticipates that space rocket technologies developed by the state will possibly be transferred to the private sector for increased civilian usage.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]