South Korea’s ambition to get into the commercial satellite launching game has taken off, as it were, after the successful launch of its homegrown Nuri rocket on Thursday.
The three-stage vehicle was scheduled to fly on Wednesday, but the launch was scrubbed after the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) found what it described as a communication problem between two computers – one controlling the launch pad and one controlling the launch vehicle.
The Register notes that a network error also delayed NASA’s first Artemis mission. In space, nobody can hear you ping?
But we digress. KARI crew sorted the networking mess, and Nuri took to the skies at 1824 local time.
The 47m rocket, which can haul a 3,000kg payload to low earth orbit, carried eight satellites.
One of the birds is named “Next Generation Small Satellite No. 2” – aka NEXTSat-2 – and was built locally to resemble the kind of commercial payload KARI aspires to launch for cash. The mission also hauled half a dozen CubeSats.
All bar one of the satellites has performed as expected. One CubeSat has proven a little hard to track, but KARI isn’t unduly worried.
South Korea’s minister for science and ICT, Lee Jong-ho, was exultant after the successful launch. And why wouldn’t he be? South Korea is just the eleventh nation to become capable of building and flying its own vehicle capable of launching satellites, and this mission demonstrated it can do so for commercial customers.
Or for its own military.
Nuri first flew in 2022. Thursday’s launch was its first commercial demo. Minister Lee said three further Nuri launches are planned between now and 2027.
That launch cadence won’t worry the likes of SpaceX, which has launched six missions in May 2023 alone, and 32 during the year. China has sent up 20 rockets this year, Russian managed seven launches and India has put three payloads into orbit.
While South Korea won’t top those numbers anytime soon, the involvement of local engine-maker Hanwha Aerospace on this mission – and its success – is seen as putting the nation on course to be player. ®