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South Korea hits a space race milestone with latest rocket launch

The country launched a satellite into orbit with its own rocket for the first time

Space rocket Nuri (KSLV-Ⅱ) taking off from its launch pad at the Naro Space Center on June 21, 2022.
In this handout image provided by Korea Aerospace Research Institute, a space rocket Nuri (KSLV-Ⅱ) taking off from its launch pad at the Naro Space Center on June 21, 2022, in UGoheung-gun, South Korea.
Photo by Korea Aerospace Research Institute via Getty Images

For the first time in its history, South Korea has successfully launched a satellite into orbit on a domestically built rocket. The Nuri rocket lifted off at 4PM local time today from the Naro Space Center in Goheung. The launch could help South Korea gain footing in the growing global space industry and potentially bolster the nation’s national defense arsenal with future spy satellites.

Nuri’s payload today included a set of satellites that officials say have no military purposes. The rocket placed a 357-pound performance verification satellite into orbit about 435 miles (700 km) above our planet. The performance verification satellite is now poised to help South Korea launch more satellites. While in orbit, the satellite will test an antenna, generator, and other equipment, according to The New York Times. The satellite was already able to send data about its status back down to Earth, The Associated Press reports.

That big satellite is carrying four mini research satellites, called CubeSats, each weighing no more than 22 pounds. The CubeSats are designed to eventually orbit on their own, with the first set to break away from the larger satellite on June 29th.

Reaching orbit is a milestone for South Korea after years of trial and error with its own rocket industry that left it reliant on other nations’ technology. Nuri’s first test launch last October ended in failure after one of its engines burned out early. The satellite reached space but couldn’t stay in orbit. South Korea had its first successful satellite launch from within its borders back in 2013, but the rocket that it rode on was made partially in Russia.

South Korea is now the 10th in the world to have sent a satellite into space using its own technology, according to AP. The technology for launching spacecraft falls under international restrictions because of its capability to carry missiles and spy satellites, the news wire writes. The United Nations Security Council, for example, has barred North Korea from launching space rockets, which North Korea has nevertheless disregarded.