S.Korea, Russia probe rocket failure
South Korean and Russian experts launched an investigation Friday after the spectacular failure of the Asian country's latest rocket launch, with some researchers blaming inadequate testing.
The Naro-1 rocket, which was Russian-made but assembled in South Korea, veered off course and exploded 137 seconds after blast-off on Thursday.
The mishap came after a first rocket failure last year, thwarting South Korea's plans to launch a scientific satellite and setting back its dreams of joining Asia's space race.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said the debris fell into the sea, some 470 kilometers (295 miles) south of the Naro Space Centre's launch pad off the southern coast.
KARI on Friday convened a meeting of a joint investigation committee of the two countries to determine the cause of the failure, a spokesman of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry said.
"It went wrong after the first-stage rocket completed two-thirds of its work," KARI research fellow Chae Yeon-Seok told AFP.
Researchers said this was verified by video footage from a camera mounted on the rocket as well as live TV footage, which both showed a sudden brightening and orange flames of an explosion.
South Korea was trying to join an exclusive club currently numbering nine nations that have put a satellite into orbit using a domestically assembled rocket.
Its first attempt failed last August when fairings on the nose cone of the Naro-1 did not open properly to release the satellite.
"It is very regretful that we were unable to verify whether the faulty aspects that caused last year's failure were properly addressed this time, as we lost the rocket too early in flight," Chae said.
He and other South Korean researchers noted that the Russian rocket was a new vehicle that was still under development and whose performance was not fully tested through flights.
"When we launched the rocket in the first attempt last year, that was the only flight test before this launch. We have not had many chances to verify its credibility," Chae said.
The government put a brave face on the second failure.
"Though we humbly accept the results, we shall not give up on our dream of becoming a space power," Science and Technology Minister Ahn Byong-Man said Thursday.
Plans for a third attempt will be announced after the investigation is completed, he said.
South Korea's biggest-selling daily, the Chosun Ilbo, said the country must take heart from the way it rapidly industrialised from unpromising beginnings.
"We have a long road ahead and the Naro-1 launch is only the first step," it said in an editorial. "When we started shipbuilding and the IT industry, we were also behind others."
South Korea, despite its status as an international economic powerhouse, entered Asia's space race relatively late.
It has previously sent 10 satellites into space using launch vehicles from other countries.
In 2007 the country announced a plan to launch a lunar orbiter by 2020 and to send a probe to the Moon five years after that.
© 2010 AFP