The launch of the satellite-carrying space rocket Naro-1 has been delayed again due to an unexpected glitch in the fire-extinguishing system on the launch pad. It is unclear when the next launch attempt will be made. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is putting off the launch until the exact cause is identified.
◆ Surprise Cancelation
At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the ministry said the final countdown simulation went ahead smoothly and the rocket would be launched at 5 p.m. as scheduled. But at 1:52 p.m., only about 20 minutes later, the fire-extinguishing system near the rocket covered the launch pad with a carpet of foam.
Hong Il-hee, the chief of the rocket research division, said, "Fire-extinguishing liquids were spurted from all three nozzles that surround the launch pad." As a result, 100 tons of water and 3 cubic m of chemical agents gushed out. The liquids are meant to put out flames in an emergency.
The ministry tried to bring the situation under control for about 20 minutes and finally announced the suspension of the blastoff around 2:20 p.m.
◆ Unknown Cause
Officials are at a loss to explain the cause. Lee Joo-jin, the president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said, "No exact cause has been found. It's hard to predict the next schedule for the rocket launch."
The fire extinguishers are operated manually or automatically in an emergency. Experts attribute the glitch to a malfunction in the computer program. Another possibility is a short-circuit. The fire-extinguishing system is connected to the electrical panel beneath the launch pad, where a total 140 km of cables and 1.5 km of 400 atm pipes lie intricately entangled.
A KARI official said, "Some cables may have caused an electrical signal error." That, too, is speculation.
◆ No New Launch Date
It will likely take some time to conduct a checkup. This was not the first glitch before the second launch attempt. On Monday afternoon it took five more hours than expected to raise the Naro-1 upright because of an electrical glitch in the process of connecting the rocket with the launch pad. "We'd conducted enough simulation tests including a dry run using a ground test vehicle in May and found no glitches," Lee said.
There are calls for more careful testing. Chances are that the next launch will be delayed for some time while engineers check the whole system. Weather conditions are disadvantageous to an early launch, too. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, rain will fall on Jeju on Thursday and rain clouds will gather in the southern part of the country from Friday.
Officials at the Naro Space Center say it is unlikely the rocket can be launched this week.