S.Korea rocket blasts off, ground control loses contact

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A South Korean rocket blasted off Thursday to try to place a satellite into orbit but ground controllers lost contact with it less than three minutes later.

Spectators waving national flags jumped or danced jubilantly as they watched the blast-off from the Naro Space Center on the south coast, TV pictures showed.

But shortly after lift-off at 5:01 pm (0801 GMT), engineers reported thet communications had been cut.

Contact was lost completely 137 seconds after blast-off when the rocket was at an altitude of 70 kilometres (43 miles), said Lee Joo-Jin, head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

"We will try all possible means to track our satellite," he told a briefing.

The scientific satellite had been expected to separate from the rocket at an altitude of 302 km and deploy its solar panels about nine minutes after blast-off.

There was no indication whether this had gone according to plan.

South Korea is 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 failed to open properly so that the satellite could be released into orbit.

The latest launch was postponed Wednesday for one day after the fire extinguisher system began leaking.

The nation has spent more than 500 billion won (400 million dollars) on the 140-ton Naro-1.

The liquid-fuelled first stage of the rocket was made in Russia, while the second stage was built domestically, as was the satellite.

"Even though we lost contact, I hope there will be good news from Norway or the US," said Prime Minister Chung Un-Chan, speaking from the space centre and referring to arrangements with those countries to track the trajectory.

"I'm still hoping for success," he said, indicating the rocket still can place the satellite into orbit.

© 2010 AFP

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