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Aerospace & Defense Industries

South Korean rocket carries satellite into orbit for first time

Domestic industry ups its game in space race with Asian neighbors

Satellite launch with South Korea’s own Nuri rocket into space from Goheung on May 25. (Yonhap via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) -- South Korea's domestically produced space rocket successfully delivered a commercial-grade satellite into orbit on Thursday, the country's science minister said, marking a major step in its efforts to become a key player in an intensifying space race with its Asian neighbors.

The Nuri rocket lifted off from Naro Space Center on the southern coast of South Korea at 6:24 p.m. (0924 GMT) in its third flight after the launch was cancelled a day earlier due to technical glitches.

Among eight satellites that were aboard the rocket, the main commercial-grade satellite made contact with a base station in Antarctica after successfully separating from the space vehicle, Science Minister Lee Jong-ho said.

President Yoon Suk Yeol touted the launch as a major step that places South Korea among the top seven countries that have put domestically produced satellites into orbit with their domestically built space launch vehicles.

"This will greatly change the way the world sees South Korea's space science technology and its advanced industry," Yoon said.

The launch on Thursday was designed to load a commercial-grade satellite onto the rocket for the first time, after the second test in June last year successfully put dummy satellites into orbit.

On Wednesday, the ministry had called off a planned launch just hours before the scheduled time, citing technical problems, which officials described as communication errors within the system that controls a helium tank on the launch pad. They said that issue was fixed after work overnight.

The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri is the country's first domestically built space launch vehicle using only South Korean rocket technology, and three more flights are expected until 2027.

The Nuri is key to the country's ambitious plans to jumpstart its nascent space program and boost progress in 6G networks, spy satellites and even lunar probes.

With a heated arms race in Asia, space launches have long been a delicate issue, and North Korea is gearing up to launch its first military spy satellite.

Seoul also plans to launch military satellites, but has ruled out any weapons use for the Nuri.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un approved final preparations for a satellite launch, without specifying a date.

Construction at North Korea's satellite launching station has hit a "new level of urgency," a U.S.-based think tank said in a report on Thursday, citing satellite imagery.

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