South Korea painfully nears the stars

Everything was going very well. The rocket “Korean Satellite Lunch Vehicle II”, baptized “Nuri” (“World” in old Korean) took off Thursday, October 21 at the end of the afternoon from its launch pad in Goheung, on an island in the south-east. of the peninsula. She reached an altitude of 600 kilometers a little over 30 minutes later to position herself correctly. But the last step of putting a dummy 1,500 kg satellite into orbit failed. “The space mission remains an unfinished mission”South Korean President Moon Jae-in said after witnessing the launch at the control center.

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For the South Korean president, visibly disappointed, this is only half a failure. “Although it did not perfectly achieve its objectives, we achieved great feats with our first launch”, he indicated, specifying that a new attempt will take place next May. “Countries that are at the forefront of space technology will be at the forefront of the future, he said again. And we are not too late. “ South Korea is the 12e global economy and one of the most technologically advanced countries with in particular its flagship Samsung Electronics, the largest manufacturer of smartphones and chips in the world.

Seoul still lagging behind

However, Seoul has always lagged behind in the conquest of space, focusing its efforts on post-war reconstruction in 1953 and economic development. It will have taken him ten years to develop this new national rocket (1.5 billion euros) which has mobilized more than 300 South Korean companies in different technological sectors. The “Nuri” was the first fully Korean space project without any participation from foreign partners.

So far the South Korean space program has shown mixed results: its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which used Russian technology, have been unsuccessful. The second rocket even exploded after two minutes of flight, Seoul and Moscow blaming each other. Eventually, the country successfully launched in 2013, still relying on engines developed in Russia. The Soviet Union had paved the way for the conquest of space with the launch of the first satellite in 1957, closely followed by the United States.

A probe on the Moon “by 2030”

In Asia, China, Japan and India have developed advanced space programs and North Korea is the latest to join the club of countries capable of launching a satellite. The same technology is used for ballistic missiles and space rockets. Pyongyang put a 300 kg satellite into orbit in 2012, which Western countries condemned as a disguised missile test. Today, only five countries (United States, Russia, China, Japan, India) and the European consortium Ariane have successfully launched a payload of more than one ton on their rockets.

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A success of “Nuri” would have accelerated the entry of South Korea into the club of countries capable of launching a satellite. Engineers will have to assess what went wrong, but South Korea’s ambitious space program is not in question. Last March, President Moon Jae-in made no secret of his country’s desire to join this “Space exploration competition”, adding that “Thanks to the achievements of South Korean rocket systems, the government will pursue an active program of space exploration. We will realize the dream of landing our probe on the Moon by 2030. ”

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