South Korea has partial success with 1st launch into the space race

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Hong Kong — South Korea had a partial success on Thursday in its attempt to join the global space race. The country successfully launched its first home-grown rocket, but while on its way into orbit, things didn't go as planned.

Lift-off of the "Nuri" rocket — which means "world" — looked smooth, but as the minutes dragged into more than an hour, there was no confirmation from South Korean officials of the total success they'd been hoping for.

After about 90 minutes, President Moon Jae-in appeared on television, praising everyone who worked on the mission but revealing that the payload, a dummy satellite, had failed to make it into orbit. 

south-korea-nuri-rocket-launch.jpg An image provided by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in South Korea shows the first test launch of the country's home-grown Nuri rocket on October 21, 2021. Korea Aerospace Research Institute

"Separation of the dummy satellite was accomplished without any problems. It was done completely with our own technology," Moon told his nation. "However, placing the dummy satellite in orbit remains an unfinished task."

He lauded the team behind the project and said South Korea was "getting closer to space."

The Nuri launched at 5 p.m. local time, after a one-hour delay due to strong winds. It has been about 10 years in the making, at an estimated cost of around $1.6 billion. The Nuri is built to travel almost 500 miles above our planet's surface, and is designed to shuttle payloads of up to 1.5 tons into orbit.

It might have reached that goal, if the third-and-final-stage engine had fired for as long as planned during the launch. South Korea's Ministry of Science and ICT, which carried out the launch, said an analysis showed the stage-three engine fired for about 45 seconds short of the planned 8.7 minutes, which meant the rocket failed to generate enough speed to push the dummy satellite into orbit.

South Korea has said it eventually plans to launch real satellites into orbit on Nuri rockets for surveillance and communication purposes. 

North Korea was no doubt watching the launch. The Kim regime has already sent its first satellite into orbit, in 2012. And Thursday's partial success for South Korea came on the heels of North Korea's latest weapons test: Pyongyang test fired a ballistic missile designed to be launched from a submarine just two days ago. 

It was the eighth significant weapons test by the North this year, including missiles launched from trains, and a claim by Pyongyang to have tested a hypersonic missile in September. That kind of technology can send missiles flying at least five times the speed of sound, making them much harder to track and destroy.

North Korea fires suspected sub-launched ball... 01:59

All of these launches have kept the Korean Peninsula, and the entire region, on edge. 

While South Korea failed to completely hit the mark it was aiming for on Thursday, the country has already planned four more attempts to get it right, with launches scheduled through 2027.

President Moon has already vowed that his country will "realize the dream" of reaching the moon with a lunar probe by 2030.

Ramy Inocencio


Ramy Inocencio is the Asia correspondent for CBS News based in Beijing.

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