South Korea's first fully indigenous rocket now on launch pad, ready for tests

Plans test launch this year, satellite-lifting in 2022 and moonshot not long after

South Korea has revealed a test version of a locally developed rocket with satellite launch capabilities.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) hopes to launch the craft, known as "Nuri" or KSLV-II, in October 2021 with a mock payload.

By May 2022 KARI wants to send up a 200kg satellite, a payload that should not tax Nuri as it is rated to carry 2,600kg into low-earth orbit.

KARI had hoped to set in motion Nuri in February 2021, but the program was delayed due to changes in its first stage’s assembly process and part delays. Final combustion tests of the rocket's first-stage engines were conducted in March.

The country started developing the rocket in 2010 and has been mostly silent about the two trillion won ($1.8bn, £1.27bn) project’s progress.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said Nuri currently sits on its launch pad at Naro Space Center in Goheung waiting for tests to be carried out. The tests will set the vehicle upright (as was done Tuesday), connect it to the launch pad with cords that carry fuel, power and signals.

Nuri’s actual flight module is still under construction, as are two of its three stages. The two yet-to-be-assembled stages use 75-ton liquid engines – four clustered in the first stage and one on the second stage. The other stage, which has already been built, has a seven-ton liquid engine.

South Korea flew a rocket in 2013, when Naro, aka KSLV-1, placed a satellite into low-Earth orbit. However, its first stage was built in Russia.

The nation's slow progress in space is in part attributable to a 1979 agreement between the US and South Korea that limited the latter country to developing and test ballistic missiles with range of just 180km. The restrictions were revised in July of 2020 as limits on the use of solid fuel in space launch vehicles were completely removed and South Korea became free to make use of solid rocket motors without restrictions, thereby enabling their extremely limited (to date) space program. South Korea has also signed the Artemis Accords, an international agreement on space research collaboration.

South Korea has big ambitions in space, with plans in place to launch a lunar orbiter in 2022. ®

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