Engineers at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) check the ground test vehicle (GTV) of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-1) rocket expected to be launched next year at KARI's assembly complex in Goheung, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. / Korea Times
By Kim Tong-hyung
GOHEUNG, South Jeolla Province ― South Korean scientists unveiled the mock-up of a rocket designed to send a domestically produced research satellite into orbit next year from the country's spaceport in Goheung, South Jeolla Province.
A successful launch from the Naro Space Center would make Korea the ninth country in the world to launch its own satellite from home soil.
The 33-meter, 140-ton ground test vehicle (GTV) revealed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is virtually identical to the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-1) rocket that will be launched sometime during the second quarter of next year. The experimental rocket is used to examine engine, machinery and electronics systems, fuel injection and also test ground equipment and the launch pad.
The KSLV-1, a carrier rocket designed for transporting satellites, is a joint project with Russia's Khrunichev State Space Science and Production Center, which is providing the technology for the project and designing the 25.8-meter-long lower assembly that contains the liquid-fueled propulsion system.
KARI designed the upper part of the rocket that will carry a 100-kilogram satellite jointly developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST). The Russians delivered the first-stage of the GTV in August.
``Aside from the fact that we are using experimental rocket fuel, it is actually the same machine as the one we will be sending into space. There is even a mock-up satellite in there too,'' said Cho Gwang-rae, a KARI senior researcher in charge of the rocket project, pointing to the massive GTV at KARI's assembly complex, just five minutes drive from the Naro launch pad.
``Of course, after all the testing, the GTV is too banged up and it would be impossible to send that into space even if we wanted too,'' said Cho, adding that the KARI has built a total of 10 rockets, six for testing and three currently saved for actual launches.
The Khrunichev Center also has about four to five mock-ups of the lower assembly of the rockets that they are using to test the propulsion. It will deliver the first-stage of the real rocket sometime during January after testing of ground equipment and the launch pad is completed, Cho said.
The Khrunichev Center has dispatched about 35 scientists and engineers to KARI to participate in the testing.
Around 502.4 billion won (about $377 million) will be spent on the KSLV-1 project, including $198 million for the Russians who are contracted for at least two launches.
The first launch is expected as early as April, and if successful, another rocket will be launched from Naro nine months later. The Russians will provide the technology for a third launch if the first two attempts fail.
KARI officials are realistic, saying that the chance of the first launch being successful is less than 50 percent. The fate of the flight is expected to be determined within 10 minutes from liftoff.
The rocket will head straight up for the first 25 seconds before making a ``kick-turn'' to about 10 degrees east, passing 100 kilometers above Okinawa on the way. The nose cone of the second-stage of the rocket that holds the satellite will split after 225 seconds and the lower assembly of the rocket will fall back to Earth 13 seconds later after burning all of its fuel.
The satellite will be separated from the second stage of the rocket after 540 seconds and enter a low Earth orbit (LOE) about 306 kilometers above ground.
The KSLV-1 project is a central part of Korea's ambitions to establish an international presence in space technology. The country plans to develop a fully homemade rocket by 2017 to launch a 1.5-ton satellite into an LOE.
The Naro Space Center has already completed construction of the launch pad, the main control center, radar tracking stations and other facilities. Naro engineers are currently conducting autonomous tests of the facilities which are expected to be completed by the year's end.