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Aerospace & Defense

Korea’s Nuri: Mission unaccomplished, but one step closer to space

The rocket successfully reached the orbit, but wasn’t able to put the satellite into it, says the Korean president

Aerospace & Defense

Korea’s Nuri: Mission unaccomplished, but one step closer to space

By Oct 21, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

South Korea has launched its first domestically designed and developed space rocket Nuri, but failed to put a satellite into orbit, thwarting its bid to join a handful of countries with advanced aerospace technology capable of sending at least a 1.5-ton satellite into orbit.

The Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle Two (KSLV-II), nicknamed Nuri, meaning the world in Korean, lifed off at 5 p.m. local time, an hour behind schedule, on Thursday from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, 473 km south of Seoul.

Korea's Nuri rocket takes off
Korea's Nuri rocket takes off

The 200-ton rocket, emblazoned with Korea’s national flag, was meant to put a 1.5-ton dummy satellite into orbit 600 km to 800 km above Earth, according to the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).

nuri

Third Stage
7-ton Liquid Fuel Engine

Second Stage
75-ton Liquid Fuel Engine

First Stage
4 Clustered 75-ton Liquid Fuel Engines


“The rocket has successfully reached the targeted orbit, but wasn’t able to place the satellite into orbit,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at a press briefing after the launch.

“It’s a mission unaccomplished, but I can confidently say that we are just a step away from complete success.”

A science ministry official said the success rate for newly developed rockets on the first attempt is usually less than 30%.

Korea has said it aims to become the seventh country in the world to launch a space rocket with independent capabilities from the design to the construction of all relevant components.

Nuri is a three-stage-to-orbit rocket, on which the South Korean government and industries have spent nearly 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) on development since 2010.

nuri
The Composition of Korea Space Launch Vehicle-II (Nuri)
nuri
Payload Fairing
  • A nose cone for protecting the spacecraft payload
  • After separating from the spacecraft, falls to a ground location 1,508km away from the separation point
nuri
Third Stage (7-ton Liquid Fuel Engine)
  • Length: 7m / Diameter: 2.6m
  • Travels up to the altitude of the satellite orbit
nuri
Second Stage (75-ton Liquid Fuel Engine)
  • Length: 15.6m / Diameter: 2.6m
  • After separating the first stage, travels up to 240km altitude before separation and fall
nuri
First Stage (4 Clustered 75-ton Liquid Fuel Engines)
  • Length: 23m / Diameter: 3.5m
  • After the launch, travels up to 50km altitude before separation and fall

The first stage uses a cluster of four 75-ton liquid fuel engines to launch from the ground, while the second stage uses one 75-ton liquid fuel engine. A 7-ton liquid fuel engine is used in the third stage, driving the spacecraft body up to the altitude of its orbit.

REAL SATELLITE TO LIFT OFF IN MAY

Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea faces international sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programs.

South Korea's rocket development had previously been limited by bilateral missile guidelines from the US, put in place in 1979. The two allies, however, agreed to scrap the restrictions during a summit in May of this year, ensuring full autonomy in South Korea's efforts to develop space launch vehicles.

Seoul’s science ministry and the KARI have said a real working satellite will blast off atop Nuri in May of next year.

The country plans to conduct four more launches of the homegrown rocket until 2030 to increase reliability, the KARI said.

South Korea’s future plans call for launching surveillance, navigation, and landing a lunar probe.

“South Korea by 2022 will launch a satellite that will orbit the moon and will land a spacecraft on the moon by 2030,” said President Moon Jae-in during a technological inspection session of Nuri in March.

Inside the propulsion tank on Nuri's first-stage rocket
Inside the propulsion tank on Nuri's first-stage rocket

COLLABORATION WITH 300 KOREAN FIRMS

Nuri is a work of collaboration involving some 500 aerospace experts from more than 300 different South Korean firms.

The figure is almost double that of the number of firms that participated in the development of Naro, or KSLV-I. Naro, South Korea's first rocket, adopted most of its key technologies from Russia.

The foremost task in developing Nuri was making a homegrown engine. The development of the engine part, often referred to as the “heart” of the spacecraft, was led by Hanwha Aerospace Co. using its world-class aircraft engine assembly technology.

Hanwha Aerospace was not only responsible for assembling all different engine parts into a single integrated engine of Nuri, but also manufactured some key parts including the turbopump, the gimbal mount and the valves.

Other South Korean firms that participated in developing the engine were Space Solution Co., S&H Co., Vitzro Nextech, Neospec Co., Samyang Chemical and Hy-Lok Co.

The mobile launcher platform at Naro Space Center was designed by the Hyundai Heavy Industries Group. The platform is often called the umbilical tower as it is used to inject fuel and key oxidizing agents into the spacecraft body.

Korea's first homegrown space rocket, Nuri, being transported to the launch pad
Korea's first homegrown space rocket, Nuri, being transported to the launch pad

Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI) played a key role in developing the propulsion tank for the first stage of the rocket, whereas Doosan Heavy Industries Co. manufactured the structures that connect the fuel tanks and oxidizer tanks.

KAI was also responsible for assembling all the different components and structures of the entire spacecraft.

Some experts note that Nuri’s engine performance is on par with that of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

KAI, the country’s sole aircraft maker, said on July 18 that it signed a deal with SpaceX on the No. 4 next-generation mid-sized satellite projectile.

Write to Hae-Sung Lee, Kyung-Min Kang and Jung-hwan Hwang at ihs@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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