Korea launched its first space rocket from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province on Tuesday, but the attempt to put a scientific satellite into orbit failed.
The KSLV-1 or Naro lifted off at 5 p.m. and the launch progressed smoothly, from the separation of fairings and ignition of the second-stage booster to separation of the payload from the second stage to place the satellite in orbit. But nine minutes after launch, the second-stage booster, which should have separated at an altitude of 306 km, separated at an altitude of 342 km instead. There were also suspicions that one of the nose fairings, which cover and protect the payload, did not separate as originally planned three minutes and 35 seconds after launch.
More precise analysis is needed, but for now there seems to be a greater possibility that the problem occurred in the second-stage booster, which was made with Korean technology, rather than in the first-stage rocket that was supplied by Russia. An honest assessment may be to admit that our level of technology is still limited. If the scientific satellite fails to circle its intended orbit, it may not be able to gather data to analyze global warming and climate change.
But that is no cause for disappointment. Korea's space industry, which began 15 years ago, is still in its fledgling stage. The world's leading countries in the space race have more than 50 years of history and tasted countless failures.
The success rate for first launches is just 27 percent. The Vanguard, America's first rocket, exploded two seconds after blastoff, and this is just one of many major accidents that have occurred. Brazil, which has been developing its own rocket, attempted three launches, and all of them ended with either the rocket blowing up in flight or during the launch preparation stage. One of those explosions caused the deaths of many scientists.
The U.S., Russia, Europe, China and Japan all experienced similar failures but did not give up and thoroughly analyzed their mistakes, using them as opportunities to advance their space programs. After the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the U.S. government interviewed all NASA officials to determine the mistakes that rushed the launch and glitches in even minor components, and came up with improvements.
All technologies are improved through failures. And in the space industry, which is an amalgamation of high-precision technologies, the failures lead to valuable lessons. The partial failure of Naro's launch is a reminder of the long and bumpy road that lies ahead for Korea's space program. It also points to the limits of Korea's technological ability. But through such failures, the country can take another step forward in its endeavor to explore space with its own technology.
Failures are stepping stones on the road to success. In May next year, Korea will launch another space rocket similar to the Naro. And in 2018, it will launch a rocket built entirely with Korean technology. Hopefully Korea's scientists and technicians will not lose faith and continue to move forward with the space program.