South Korea’s indigenous rocket launches commercial satellite

South Korea’s homegrown Nuri rocket has successfully launched a commercial-grade satellite into orbit, marking a significant milestone in the country’s aspirations to be a competitive player in the escalating Asian space race. The launch was confirmed by the country’s science minister, Lee Jong-ho, on Thursday.

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The Nuri rocket was launched from the Naro Space Center, located on South Korea’s southern coast, at 6:24 p.m. local time (0924 GMT). This marked its third flight after a launch scheduled for the previous day was aborted due to technical hitches.

Out of the eight satellites onboard the rocket, the primary commercial-grade satellite successfully established contact with an Antarctic base station after its separation from the space vehicle, Science Minister Lee explained.

President Yoon Suk Yeol celebrated the successful launch, asserting it positions South Korea among the top seven nations that have deployed domestically produced satellites using their own space launch vehicles. “This significantly alters global perception of South Korea’s space science technology and its advanced industry,” Yoon stated.

Thursday’s launch was the first attempt to send a commercial-grade satellite into orbit using the Nuri rocket. The previous launch in June of last year successfully deployed dummy satellites.

The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri, entirely constructed with South Korean technology, is the nation’s first domestically built space launch vehicle. The plan includes three more flights until 2027.

The Nuri is instrumental in the country’s ambitious plan to stimulate its burgeoning space program, and foster advancements in 6G networks, spy satellites, and lunar probes.

In light of the escalating arms race in Asia, space launches have always been a sensitive topic. North Korea is preparing to launch its first military spy satellite. While South Korea also has plans for military satellites, it has excluded weaponizing the Nuri.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently authorized the final preparations for a satellite launch, although no date was specified. A report on Thursday from a U.S.-based think tank indicated heightened activity at North Korea’s satellite launching station, based on satellite imagery.