Published: 32 minutes ago
South Koreans watch the much anticipated lift-off of a rocket carrying a weather satellite, Thursday, June 10, 2010, at the main train station in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea said the rocket that it sent into space Thursday carrying an observation satellite is believed to have exploded in flight. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean rocket carrying a climate observation satellite apparently exploded 137 seconds into its flight early Thursday, the countrys second major space setback in less than a year.
The two-stage Naro rocket operated normally during and after liftoff from the countrys space center, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Ahn Byong-man said. But then communications with the rocket were lost after it reached an altitude of about 43 miles (70 kilometers).
“We believe that the Naro rocket is likely to have exploded,” he told reporters. “We are sorry for failing to live up to peoples expectations.”
An image from a camera aboard the Naro brightened like a flash of light, possibly evidence of an explosion, Ahn said.
He said South Korean and Russian experts were trying to find the cause of the mishap. The first stage of the rocket was designed and built by Russia and the second by South Korea.
Ahn said that South Korea will begin preparations to announce a new launch date as soon as the origin of the problem is determined.
Ministry spokesman Pyun Kyung-bum said that debris from the rocket is believed to have fallen into the sea some 292 miles (470 kilometers) south of Oenaro Island, which is home to the space center.
The blastoff at the coastal space center in Goheung, 290 miles (465 kilometers) south of Seoul, was the countrys second launch of a rocket from its own territory. In the first attempt last August, the satellite failed to reach orbit because one of its two covers apparently failed to come off after liftoff. The rocket on which it was carried functioned normally, so South Korea saw that launch as a partial success.
Since 1992, South Korea has launched 11 satellites from overseas sites, all on foreign-made rockets.
The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed a day because fire retardant suddenly sprayed from three nozzles set up near the launch pad to extinguish any blaze.
South Korea wants to put a satellite into orbit to study global warming and climate change.
South Koreans are intensely proud of their countrys rise from devastation and poverty after the end of the Korean War as well as their reputation for advanced technology and were closely observing the launch. About 100 people watched it on big screen televisions at Seouls main railway station. People applauded when the rocket blasted off, though the mood turned anxious after the first news of a problem.
“Im disappointed because maybe this tells me that Korea doesnt have the right technology yet,” said Yoon Ho-soo, a writer who was sitting in front of a central Seoul subway station Thursday night.
South Koreas Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which oversees the space program, says South Korea plans to develop a space launch vehicle with its own technology by 2020.
China, Japan and India are Asias current space powers. Japan has launched numerous satellites while China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and carried out its first spacewalk in 2008.
India launched a satellite into moon orbit in 2008, but had to abandon it nearly a year later after communication links snapped and scientists lost control of it.
Despite the series of problems, South Korea wasnt about to give up on space.
President Lee Myung-bak urged the countrys space engineers and experts to avoid feeling frustrated over the setback and aim for success next time.
“Though its regrettable, much more can be learned through failure,” he said in comment posted on the presidential Web site.