Why did South Korea's rocket launch fail?
South Korean officials said they did not know where to pin blame, but noted the explosion occurred in the Russian-made first-stage of the rocket rather than in the Korean-made second stage. The failure of the South Korea rocket launch was an embarrassing setback.
(Page 2 of 2)
South Korean Navy vessels were picking up bits of debris where the pieces of the rocket and satellite hurtled into the Pacific Ocean about 290 miles south of the southernmost Korean island of Jeju. The rocket with its payload was about 40 miles above the surface at the time of the failure.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Less successful this time
The news was all the more disheartening since this attempt was actually less successful than the one in August. The satellite at that time was just going into orbit at the moment of an explosion 225 seconds after liftoff. The Khrunichev Space Center disavowed responsibility, blaming the separation of the payload from the rocket’s second stage, all built by the Koreans.
At the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, south of Seoul, veteran aerospace engineer Park Chul, offers a simple explanation for the failure.
“It blew up during combustion of the first-stage rocket,” says Mr. Park, who spent 37 years as an engineer with NASA in the United States. “That’s what we call ‘knocking’ in our car engine. In a rocket, the engineering term is detonation. You must prevent this from happening.”
Park says the chances of failure become worse “if you make a rocket engine of higher performance.” The engine for the first stage was in this case supposed to offer “10 percent better performance” than any other.
“This engine has the highest possible pressure,” he says. “At that pressure, the danger is greater.”
The launch of a satellite from Korean soil was seen as a pivotal event for a nation that prides itself on having launched satellites from other countries, including Russia. The European Space Agency is to launch Korea’s first geostationary satellite later this month from a center in French Guiana. That satellite will remain in a stationary orbit 35,000 kilometers above the earth gathering material for meteorological purposes.
“We have our own satellites,” says Lee Tok-ju, another former NASA engineer who heads the department of space engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. “The space launcher is much more difficult.”
Mr. Lee calls Russia “No. 1 in space launchers,” but say the Russians insisted on designing the entire first stage of the launcher rather than cooperating with Koreans. “They don’t want to reveal their secrets,” he says.
Park says the Koreans turned to Russia after having failed to develop their own launch vehicles successfully with smaller engines. “They kept blowing up,” he says. “Politicians and the public wanted results.”
The Americans were no longer building rockets, much less sharing technology, says Park, and had already fallen far behind.
“So the Koreans went to Russia and asked the Russians to build an engine,” says Park. ”The Russians “refused to sell any existing engine but said they will spend the money to develop a new powerful engine.”