South Korea launches satellite but fails to hit correct orbitSEOUL, Aug 25, 2009 (AFP) - South Korea's first space rocket blasted off Tuesday, less than a week after a launch was aborted at the last minute, but it failed to place a satellite into the designated orbit.
The launch, dubbed a partial success by officials, came less than five months after nuclear-armed rival North Korea incurred international anger by firing its own long-range rocket.
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Seoul's Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 lifted off on schedule at 5:00 pm (0800 GMT) atop a tail of flame, to the jubilation of officials and guests at the Naro Space Centre.
The Russian-made first stage separated successfully less than five minutes later and the South Korean-built 100-kilogram (220-pound) scientific research satellite was then placed into Earth orbit.
But science and technology minister Ahn Byong-Man said it was not following the designated track.
"All aspects of the launch were normal, but the satellite exceeded its planned orbit and reached an altitude of 360 kilometres (225 miles)," Ahn said.
It should have separated at around 302 kilometres.
"A joint probe is under way by South Korean and Russian engineers to find the exact cause," the minister said.
Korea Aerospace Research Institute head Lee Joo-Jin told reporters it was too early to say whether the space centre would be able to communicate with the satellite.
Asked if the launch should be seen as a success or failure, Lee said: "We can say it is partially successful, although we have yet to analyse data precisely."
The satellite's first signal had originally been expected to come 12 or 13 hours after lift-off.
North Korea, smarting at UN Security Council censure of its April 5 blast-off, had vowed to closely monitor reaction to its neighbour's launch from Goheung on the south coast.
Pyongyang said it merely put a peaceful communications satellite into orbit and it wants Seoul's launch also to be referred to the Council.
Washington and its allies have said no North Korean satellite was detected in orbit and its launch was in fact a disguised test of a Taepodong-2 missile.
The US State Department said last week that South Korea -- in contrast to the North -- had developed its programme transparently and in keeping with international agreements.
A 2001 accord with Washington bars Seoul from developing missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometres.
The launch follows seven delays since 2005. Last week a software problem halted the countdown with just eight minutes to go.
Television showed about 100 invited guests led by Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo applauding and shaking hands after the initial announcement that the satellite was successfully placed into orbit.
They were visibly disappointed when the science minister later announced the hitch.
South Korea, an international economic powerhouse, entered Asia's space race relatively late.
It has invested more than 500 billion won (400 million dollars) and much national pride in the 33-metre (108-foot) rocket, whose first stage was built in Russia and the second stage by local engineers.
South Korea has previously sent 10 satellites into space using launch vehicles from other countries.
In November 2007 it announced a plan to launch a lunar orbiter by 2020 and to send a probe to the Moon five years after that.
South Korea unveiled the lunar project one month after China launched its first lunar orbiter and two months after Japan did the same.
In April last year Seoul sent its first astronaut into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
by Lim Chang-Won