South Korea succeeded in its second attempt to place a satellite into orbit using a domestically built space rocket, South Korean authorities said Tuesday, a key step in the country’s ambitious plans for independent space development.
Space minister Lee Jong-ho confirmed that the three-stage rocket, dubbed “Nuri,” deployed several satellites into orbit after being launched from a space center on a small island in the southwestern coastal area of Goheung.
The success comes eight months after Nuri’s maiden flight failed to place a dummy satellite into orbit when the rocket’s third stage malfunctioned.
With Tuesday’s successful launch, South Korea became the 10th country to place a satellite into space using its own technology.
South Korean officials insist the Nuri rocket has no military use. However, the launch shows South Korea can build bigger rockets and launch spy satellites that can monitor threats including North Korea, its nuclear-armed neighbor.
South Korean officials hope it also will help turn the country into a “space powerhouse," boosting not only its government-led space program but also its private aerospace industry.
“Now, a path to space has been opened from the Republic of Korea,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared following the launch. He also reiterated a commitment to establish a national aerospace agency.
Though South Korea has the world’s 10th largest economy, its space program is seen as lagging that of many other wealthy countries. Nuri, which means "world" in Korean, is meant to help reduce that gap.
Since 2010, South Korea has spent over $1.7 billion on the Nuri program. Officials hope it will aid the creation of a South Korean satellite-based navigation system and next-generation communication networks.
Experiences gained in satellite launches can also aid weapons development, since space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles share many features, analysts say.
South Korea’s weapons and space programs have also recently benefited from U.S. and South Korean decisions to ease joint restrictions on the development of South Korean missiles.
In March, South Korea’s military announced the country’s first successful test of a solid-fuel space rocket — a precursor to the deployment of satellites meant to monitor threats including North Korea.
South Korea currently relies on U.S. spy satellites to monitor North Korea. But Seoul has said it plans to launch its first homegrown spy satellite in 2023 via a rocket from SpaceX, the U.S. commercial space company.
South Korea is also working with SpaceX to launch a lunar orbiter later this year and aims to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon using South Korean technology by 2030.
North Korea has also attempted several space launches. It placed satellites into orbit in 2012 and 2016, though there is no evidence those satellites are functioning. In March, North Korea indicated it was preparing to launch a “military reconnaissance satellite.”
The United States and its allies say North Korea’s space launches are thinly disguised tests of long-range ballistic missiles. Because of its illicit nuclear weapons program, North Korea is prohibited from any ballistic missile activity under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.