The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, known colloquially as Naro, is removed from the pad after a glitch in the second stage led to its launch being aborted just 16 minutes and 52 seconds before liftoff. / Yonhap
By Cho Mu-hyun
GOHEUNG, South Jeolla Province - The nation's third attempt to launch the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) was again aborted Thursday, due to problems in the second-stage of the rocket, colloquially known as Naro.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said that it will determine the next launch date after a thorough inspection of the KSLV-1, but it is unlikely that the liftoff will take place this year as the current launch deadline is scheduled to end on Dec. 5. Engineers say it will take at least four to five days to figure out what went wrong and fix it.
The countdown was abruptly stopped 16 minutes and 52 seconds before the launch time of 4 p.m. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology immediately announced that there was a signal error from a thrust controller in the upper part of the rocket. The launch was officially aborted at 4:08 p.m.
"It is regrettable that we must set another launch date in front of people who have cheered us on so far," said Minister Lee Ju-ho, in an emergency briefing after the launch was canceled. "During the countdown we found an electronic signal problem with the thrust vector controller in the second stage and decided a launch will be impossible today."
"We are investigating the cause and we will announce a revised schedule later. We will prepare and inspect the rocket more thoroughly so that the third launch will be a success," he said.
Lee said the launch will be focused on success, hinting at a possible delay until spring next year.
Also at the briefing, KARI President Kim Seung-jo said every attempt was made to fix the controller to continue the launch but to no avail. It continued to consume more electricity than needed, forcing the cancelation.
Kim said the rocket will be moved to its assembly complex for a "thorough inspection." The thrust controller located in the second stage controls the vector of the nose. It is used for quick turns to control direction.
This is the second postponement in two months. The government is being so careful with the third launch because it would be the last chance for a successful liftoff of the KSLV-1. Russia agreed to provide the first stage of the rocket for a maximum of three launches.
Under the current window date, KARI is allowed to make another launch attempt until Dec. 5. Kim, though unable to provide a specific date, said that is was highly unlikely that they could make another attempt within the current window.
Cho Gwang-rae, who heads the Naro project at KARI, said the problematic part was locally made and there were many spare parts. He said the electronics device that requires inspection can only be fixed after disassembling the rocket, which will require at least two days from Thursday.
Cho added that no problems were detected during two checkups conducted on the launch date and the previous day's rehearsals.
He denied some allegations that perhaps the part, which was built five years ago, was reaching its expiration date. The institute said it had two spares for the problematic electronics part of the controller, which was made in France.
Russian officials told local media that from the current data, it seemed parts must be replaced with the rocket moving to the assembly complex. All fuel has been removed from the rocket as of 6:15 p.m. and it will be moved into the complex by today.
The disappointing outcome follows two previous failures. In the first attempt in 2009, the rocket reached the desired orbit but failed to release its satellite due to a fairing malfunction. The second attempt saw the rocket explode minutes after its launch in 2010.
KARI estimates that its current space technology has advanced to 83.4 percent to that of developed countries from 46.3 percent before the KSLV-1 project began. Korea plans to continue expanding its decade-long space program to legitimately join the so-called "space club" of the United States, France, Russia, Japan, China, the U.K., India, Israel and Iran.
The project to launch the first locally assembled rocket was initiated in 2002 in collaboration with Russia. The two have signed cooperative and technology safeguard agreements over the years.
For the two-staged rocket, Korea built the second stage that contains a locally assembled satellite as its payload and uses a solid-fuel kick motor as its engine. The larger first stage was built by Russia and is powered by liquid oxygen and highly-refine kerosene.
Naro weighs 140 tons and is 33 meters long when fully assembled. It is carrying a 100-kilogram satellite - the Science and Technology Satellite-2C.
The total spending on the KSLV-1 including assembly and launches will be over 520 billion won. The Naro Space Center, initially planned to be built on Jeju Island, is located in Goheung, South Jeolla Province and cost 300 billion won.
Seoul launched three test rockets, called Korea Sounding Rockets, prior to Naro in 1993, 1998 and 2002 before starting serious discussion to build ones powerful enough to reach orbit.
It will now initiate plans to build and launch the KSLV-2 with a budget of 1.54 trillion won.
This rocket will be much larger and powerful, weighing 200 tons and being 47.5 meters long when assembled. It will be a three-stage launch vehicle and have a larger payload - a 1.5 ton satellite. The first and second stages will use liquid fuel-powered 75-ton thrust engines that will be completed by 2018.
A vehicle using the locally made engines will be tested by 2018 before the KSLV-2. KARI said that they have acquired key technology to make a 30-ton thrust engine through cooperation with Russia, which will be the foundation to build the larger rocket.
KARI said over 80 percent of the three-stage KSLV-2 will be made here. Korea plans to build its own 300-ton thrust engine by 2022 to be used in yet to be specified future projects. Tentatively, the country plans to send an orbital probe to the moon by 2023, and one that will land on the lunar surface by 2025.
Goheung County has been bench marking France and Japan to build a space cluster in the vicinity of the space center. Around 1 trillion won will be spent by 2016 to build additional test facilities and housing.