NEW: The launch is postponed after an electronic signal problem
Previous launch attempts by South Korea failed in 2009 and 2010
Seoul says it is trying to develop its own civilian space program
The planned launch may provoke a reaction from North Korea
South Korea called off an attempt to put a satellite in orbit on Thursday, the latest setback to a program that has suffered failures in the past.
The launch of the Naro-1 rocket was suspended minutes before takeoff at a launch site on the country’s southern coast Thursday afternoon local time.
An inspection found problems with the electronic signal in part of the rocket’s mechanism, said Cho Yul-rae, a vice minister for education, science and technology. Additional time is needed to find out the reason behind the problem, he said.
Analysts say the planned launch could rile the country’s hostile neighbor, North Korea, which carried out a botched launch in April for which it was widely criticized.
North Korea’s secretive, nuclear-armed regime said its rocket, which broke apart soon after takeoff, was also meant to put a satellite in orbit.
But the United States and other countries called it a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. The U.N. Security Council condemned the launch.
South Korean authorities say their latest launch efforts are a crucial step for the development of the country’s civilian space program. The satellite carried by the launch vehicle is mainly intended for gathering climate data, they say.
The South Korean launch plan is different from that of the North because it is more transparent, is clearly focused on civilian applications and doesn’t contravene U.N. sanctions, according to Lee Chung-min, an international relations professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Despite that, North Korea is likely to “insist that a South Korean rocket launch should also be resisted by the international community,” Lee said.
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency has not published any reports so far mentioning the planned South Korean launch.
The development of the South Korean rocket program, using Russian technology for the first-stage launcher, began in 2002.
Previous launch attempts in 2009 and 2010 failed. And this launch was originally scheduled to take place last month before being postponed at the last minute.
Seoul is aiming to develop its own thruster by 2021 through a program estimated to cost 1.5 trillion won (about $1.4 billion).
A successful launch would put South Korea among the small group of nations that have sent a rocket into space from their own soil. Others include the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, India, Israel and Iran.
Recent satellite imagery suggests North Korea hasn’t given up on its own rocket ambitions.
The image, released by the company DigitalGlobe, showed increased activity at the North’s Sohae Satellite Launch Station on the country’s west coast. The company’s analysis of the image, which showed similar preparations to those observed ahead the failed satellite launch in April, raised the possibility of a new launch in the next few weeks.
But while the U.S. government has observed activity at the North Korean site, it does not believe a launch is imminent, according to U.S. military sources.