South Korea has completed work on its first space center that will play a pivotal role in the development of rockets and launching satellites into orbit.
The Naro Space Center, located 485 kilometers south of Seoul and covering 5.11 million square meters, was built at a cost of 312.4 billion won ($248.6 million), Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting the Ministry of Education, Science and technology.
Work began in December 2000, with the ground-breaking taking place in mid-2003. The vast complex located on the southern coast has a state-of-the-art mission director center, launch and flight safety control facilities, launch pad, meteorological observatory and both radar and optical tracking systems to follow the trajectory of all rockets launched.
It is scheduled to launch the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) on July 30, which could make South Korea the 13th member of the so-called "space club" comprising countries that currently operate space centers and can send satellites into orbit.
The rocket, also called Naro-1, cost 502.5 billion won to make and will be the first space vehicle launched from South Korean soil to carry a small scientific satellite into Earth's orbit.
The two-stage rocket, built in cooperation with Russia, can generate 170 tons of thrust and is designed to deliver a 100 kilogram payload.
"The Naro center and the KSLV-1 are critical milestones in the country's space program," Yoo Guk-hee, head of the ministry's space development division, was quoted as saying.
Following the successful launch of the KSLV-1, work will start on the construction of the more powerful KSLV-2 that could be launched around 2018, he said.
This project will be followed by efforts to send an unmanned probe into the Moon's orbit in 2020 and build a lunar lander five years later.