Korean and Russian officials have failed to determine the cause of failure in the second attempt to launch Korea's space rocket Naro, making it unlikely that a third launch can take place any time soon. The Ministry of Science, Education and Technology said Monday officials from both sides held a fourth round of meetings in Russia on Dec. 24-27 but were unable to narrow their differences.
Kim Sun-ok of the ministry said, "We pointed to the Russian-made mechanism that separates the first and second-stage boosters as the cause, but the Russians argued that there were problems with the automatic flight terminations system we manufactured, and we were unable to narrow our differences based on our own investigations."
The two sides plan to hold more meetings, but they could not even agree on the date of the next meeting. It is also unlikely for them to find another possible scenario, prompting observers to doubt that an agreement can be reached any time soon.
Seoul is determined to find the cause of the failure before risking a third test launch. Cheong Wa Dae and some members of the ministry are apparently afraid that a third failure could damage the government's support rating and prospects of further space research. Some also believe that Korea has learned all it needs from the Russian cooperation and should now pursue an independent path.
But officials at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, which was in charge of developing the Naro, feel that a third launch should take place soon. They say Korea needs to gain experience in putting a space vehicle in orbit, which will be invaluable in developing the home-grown rocket. Also, the second-stage booster has already been developed and does not require any further spending, KARI officials say.
Russia, however, is wary of the cost. If it refuses to go ahead with a third launch, Moscow stands to lose only US$10.5 million, or 5 percent of the outstanding payment for technological assistance. But it costs around W20 billion (US$1=W1,122) to build another first-stage booster. But if it cancels its contract with Korea without successfully launching the Naro, Russia's image in the global satellite market could suffer.