By Byun Duk-kun
NARO SPACE CENTER, South Korea, Nov. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Thursday began making final preparations to launch a space rocket from its own soil for the first time in its history.
The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) is set to be sent off into space between 4 p.m. and 6:55 p.m., according to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). It will be South Korea's third attempt to send the space rocket, also known as Naro-1, into space after its two attempts in 2009 and 2010 ended in failures.
Final inspections began early Thursday as preparations for a rocket launch, including the injection of fuel, take up to eight hours, according to KARI officials.
Such preparations are being made more cautiously and thoroughly than ever, they said, as even a minor technical problem could lead to a disastrous outcome in sending off the space rocket.
The third launch of Naro-1 was originally set to take place Oct. 26 but was delayed only hours before its scheduled liftoff due to a damaged rubber seal in an adapter that connects the rocket to its launch pad.
The exact time of the launch is expected to be announced at 1:30 p.m. after final inspections and weather checks are completed.
The Naro-1 is a two-stage rocket with a Russian-built first-stage rocket equipped with a 170-ton thrust engine and a second-stage rocket with a South Korean-developed 7-ton thrust engine. South Korea's indigenous satellite, Science and Technology Satellite-2C, sits on top of the rocket that weighs 140 tons when fully loaded.
The Naro space program began in 2002 as a growing need to send satellites forced the country to seek its own means to deliver satellites into space.
The country has so far sent about 10 satellites but all from foreign soil, using foreign rockets. A successful launch of Naro-1 on Thursday will make the country the world's 13th nation to have sent off a space rocket from its own soil.
All three first-stage rockets of Naro-1 in South Korea's two failed attempts and the upcoming launch are built by Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, but a separate space program is already underway to develop an indigenous 10-ton thrust engine by 2016.
It will be followed by the development of a 75-ton thrust engine in 2018 and a 300-ton thrust engine that can carry a 1.5-ton satellite into space in 2022.
"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," Kim Seung-jo, president of KARI, said earlier.
Once the Naro-1 takes off from its launch pad, it will take only 9 minutes for the rocket to reach its target altitude and deploy its payload satellite. It will take an additional 2 hours and 20 minutes for the satellite to move into a proper orbit on its own.
The success or failure of the launch will be determined when the satellite makes its contact with the country's ground station located in the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology approximately 13 hours after the launch.