(2nd LD) (rocket launch) S. Korea aborts space rocket launch
By Lee Joon-seung
NARO SPACE CENTER, South Korea, June 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea postponed the blastoff of its Naro-1 rocket due to problems in the launch pad's fire extinguisher system, the government said on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said the launch process was suspended after a malfunction in the electrical system caused the abnormal release of the fire extinguisher around the space rocket at 1:58 p.m. just under three hours before the scheduled launch set at 5 p.m. (Seoul time).
All three fire extinguisher nozzles on the launch pad released fluids.
"The exact cause of why this has happened is being investigated by South Korean and Russian experts, although this may take time," said ministry spokesman Pyun Kyung-bum.
"The fire extinguishers are only used in emergency situations and although they were released, the fluids did not reach the rocket."
Of the 600 tons of water stored in case of fire, about 100 tons were released as well as three cubic meters of 18 total cubic meters of chemical agents held in storage also leaking out.
"At present, the most important thing is to discover why the extinguishers went off," the spokesman said.
Until the reason for the mishap is determined, Seoul cannot announce a new date for the launch of the rocket, he said.
Lee Joo-jin, head of the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), said engineers who checked the Naro-1 after the mishap did not think the rocket was hit by the extinguisher fluids but they are currently trying to determine the fallouts.
"Experts are checking if the extinguisher fluids seeped under the launch pad and are keeping tabs on data they have to see if electrical systems, wires and valves have been affected," he said.
Lee said that based on the data analyzed, the Naro-1 could be disconnected from the launch pad and brought back to the rocket assembly building for a more thorough check-up.
If such measures are taken, the launch may be put off for some time, he said.
The latest development marks the fourth time since mid-2009 that the launch date of the locally assembled space rocket has been pushed back.
The last delay took place on Aug. 19, 2009, when a glitch in the rocket's electronics systems caused the countdown to be halted less than eight minutes before blastoff.
Seoul and Moscow originally agreed to send the rocket into space in late July of last year, but the date was pushed back to Aug. 11 and then to Aug. 19, before the first Naro-1 unit lifted off on Aug. 25. The rocket reached orbit but a malfunction in the fairing assembly made it impossible to place the scientific satellite into orbit.
The rocket, also called the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), has been built with Russian cooperation since 2002 at a cost of 502.5 billion won (US$404.5 million).
The rocket stands 33 meters tall and has a diameter of 2.9 meters. It weighs 140 tons when fully fueled with kerosene and oxidation agents.
The main first stage rocket made in Russia can generate 170 tons thrust, while the second stage kick motor rocket made in South Korea has 8 tons of thrust.