[Editorial] Nuri launch is small step for S. Korea's autonomous leap into space

한겨레 입력 2021. 10. 22. 17:56

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We applaud all those who participated in the Nuri's development and launch for their hard work and look forward to the second launch in May
The homegrown South Korean space launcher Nuri lifts off from the second launch pad of the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province on Thursday evening. The picture was created by compiling 53 individual photos of the liftoff. (pool photo)

At 5 pm Thursday, the Nuri rocket headed into space from its launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province. The first- and second-stage boosters separated normally, sending the rocket 700 km above the earth’s surface, where it released a 1.5-ton dummy satellite that it was carrying.

Unfortunately, that dummy satellite failed to enter its designated orbit, which means the test launch was only half successful. Even so, it’s a major achievement for a first launch, where the average success rate is below 30 percent.

It was thrilling enough to see Nuri’s exquisite flight that day. We applaud all those who participated in its development and launch for their hard work.

It’s by no means easy for a country to establish its own independent space transportation capabilities. Since a launch vehicle operates according to the same principles and structure as a missile, countries that possess the technology place limits on the exportation of technology transfer-related items in the interests of security strategy.

In South Korea’s case, the first Naro satellite launch vehicle, which was developed with Russia’s technological collaboration, was successfully launched in 2013 after three tries. The Nuri project was begun in 2010 as an independent development effort.

The entire process for the Nuri — from its design to its production, testing, and launch — was done with South Korean technology. Nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.69 billion) was invested in it, up to and including the launch.

The vehicle was assembled from around 370,000 components, which were produced by marshaling the full capabilities of South Korean industry, academia, and research, including those of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and the 300 or so private businesses that took part.

It is unfortunate that the dummy satellite could not be put into orbit as the third-stage engine stopped working earlier than scheduled during the launch. But a meal is about more than just the first spoonful. The next step is simply to find and fix the cause of the problem so that the next launch is a complete success.

Nuri is expected to show its capabilities with its second launch in May 2022 and another four launches through 2027. Here’s hoping that the second launch conclusively shows that South Korea has the capabilities to become the seventh country in the world to launch a practical satellite weighing over a ton.

From the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957 through the US Apollo 11 spacecraft’s moon landing in 1969, human explorations of space have continued to develop to the point where we have recently been able to send probes to Mars and usher in an era of private space travel.

But South Korea’s technological capabilities are still seen as lagging behind those of the US, China, or Japan by around 10 to 20 years. There’s a long road ahead for us to show our launch capabilities and to achieve commercial uses and competitiveness.

Our first goal should be the successful launch of the Nuri. From there, we can use that as a springboard toward even greater leaps forward.

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