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(News Focus) (rocket launch) S. Korea's space program seen as successful
By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will attempt to send a satellite into space this week with a locally assembled space rocket for the third time, leading to the question: Will it succeed this time?

   Experts, however, say the relevant question is not whether the launch will be successful, but how successful the country's space program will be, implying the country's space program has already succeeded.

   The country's ongoing space program began in 2002 with plans to develop a means to put its own satellite into orbit, an ambition that can be called nothing but humble, especially when it is held by the world's 15th-largest economy and one of the most developed countries in terms of science and technology.

   The country's lack of rocket technologies monopolized by only a handful of countries, however, prevented unilateral development of its first-ever space rocket, forcing it to team up with Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which built the first-stage rocket of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1). The second-stage rocket, along with its thrust engine, was built by the country's Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).

   The first launch of the KSLV-1, also known as Naro-1, took place on Aug. 25, 2009, but the program, not the launch itself, ended in a failure, as a problem in the fairing that covered the rocket's satellite payload made it impossible to deploy the satellite, though the rocket flawlessly reached its target orbit.

   The second launch on June 10, 2010 again failed, as the rocket exploded only 137.19 seconds after liftoff. The cause of the explosion was left inconclusive after several rounds of joint investigation by South Korean and Russian experts.

   The third launch, scheduled for this Friday, is therefore drawing special attention as to whether the launch itself will be successful this time, though the experts refused to call the first two launches failures or even half-successful.

   "When considering only the launch of a rocket itself, the first launch should then have been considered successful," a researcher from KARI said, asking not to be identified.

   "It was the program that was not wholly successful, not the launch," he added, noting the United States' success rate in rocket launches during its initial development stage in the 1950s remained at 68 percent, with that of Russia at 37 percent.

   The researcher, along with others, noted a successful launch will, of course, mark a tremendous success for the country's space program, whose No. 1 purpose remains developing an indigenous means to deliver satellites into space.

   Still, they maintained the success for the space program lies in the potential effect it will have on the country's future development.

   "The success of the Naro-1 that can put a 100-kilogram satellite into orbit is important in that it will offer confidence in our rocket design and technology, but more importantly, it will have a significant meaning as a stepping stone for the development of an indigenous launch vehicle," said Kim Seung-jo, president KARI, which is also the main developer in the Naro space program.

   Under its long-term space development program, South Korea seeks to develop its own 10-ton thrust engine by 2016 and a 75-ton thrust engine by 2018. It will launch its first truly indigenous space rocket with a payload capacity of 1.5 tons in 2021 if everything goes as planned.

   Such an ambitious goal has been made possible, in part, due to what the experts called the spin-off from the ongoing Naro space program, another indication the program has already proven successful.

   The space cooperation pact, signed between South Korea and Russia in 2004, limits any transfer of space technology from Russia.

   Still, hundreds of South Korean engineers have been working side-by-side with their Russian counterparts for years now, witnessing and learning how a rocket is designed and built, which, according to many experts, may be more valuable than the technologies involved.

   Another indication the current space program is successful is the amount of awareness it has aroused over the importance of efforts to further explore space.

   A recent survey conducted by Yonhap News Agency showed more than eight in every 10 South Koreans believe the country's space program must continue regardless of the success of failure in the upcoming launch.

   The telephone survey was conducted on 1,000 people across the country, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence.

   The successful launch of the KSLV-1 and successful deployment of the satellite this time will, of course, mean a tremendous success, as it will mark the beginning of a new era of space for South Korea, also making it part of an exclusive "space club" of only a dozen countries that have successfully sent locally manufactured rockets and satellites into space.

   "Even if the third launch of the Naro-1 fails, both the government and people need to look at it from a more mature perspective," Kim Doh-yeon, chairman of the National Science and Technology Commission, said earlier. "Regardless of the result, investment and interest in space programs must continue to increase."

   bdk@yna.co.kr
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