Fresh Delay Scuppers Hopes of Rocket Launch This Year

      November 30, 2012 09:23

      Korea's third and final attempt at launching a homegrown space rocket has been postponed again due to a malfunction.

      The glitch was found only 16 minutes and 52 seconds before the scheduled liftoff in the control system of a hydraulic pump that provides the thrust to the second-stage rocket. Technicians must now remove the fuel from the rocket, move it back to the assembly shed and break it down for a thorough investigation of the cause.

      Another launch attempt before the end of this year now seems unlikely.

      "We halted the launch at 4:08 p.m. after abnormal signals from the thrust vector system of the second-stage rocket of the Naro were detected," Minister of Education, Science, and Technology Lee Ju-ho told reporters.

      The thrust vector system, where the problem occurred, is the cone-shaped nozzle of a rocket that can manipulate the direction of the thrust from the engine, thereby controlling the altitude or direction of the vehicle. The abnormal signals came from the controller that manipulates the nozzle.

      "A flaw must have developed in the electronic components of the controller," said Kim Seung-jo, the head of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

      "If the launch had gone ahead under those conditions, the satellite would not be able to enter orbit at an altitude of around 300 km," he added. "At this point, it looks impossible to meet the Dec. 5 timeframe for the launch."

      Asked whether the launch can take place this year, Lee said, "What is important is to set a date that can maximize the chances of success. We need to discuss the matter with Russia."

      The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology wants to postpone the next launch until next year in view of the presidential election next month here and the limited time the Russian technicians can stay in Korea.

      This is the first glitch found in the Korean-made portion of the rocket. Russia made the first-stage liquid-fueled rocket, while Korea produced the second-stage solid-fuel booster plus its fairing and the satellite it is to carry into space.

      Korea invested over W520 billion (US$1=W1,084) in the rocket program, which began in 2002. Russia agreed to provide up to three rockets if the first two launch attempts fail. So far, Korea has tried twice -- the first time in 2009 and the second in 2010. The first attempt failed due to a fairing malfunction after the launch, and in the second the rocket blew up shortly after liftoff. Scientists were unable to pinpoint the exact reason for the second failure.

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