Seoul now knows why its pioneering rocket failed — Analysis

A loose helium tank wreaked havoc with South Korea’s first fully domestic space rocket, derailing its test launch

The investigation into the failure of the October test launch of South Korea’s Nuri rocket zeroed in on an anchoring device on its third stage as the culprit. This could cause delays in the next planned launch.

The rocket is also known by KSLV-II. It was developed and manufactured entirely in South Korea. On October 21st, the rocket attempted to launch a mock satellite into a heliosynchronous orbit. The mission was stalled when the third stage engine failed prematurely.

According to the Yonhap news agency, Wednesday’s failure was identified by a government panel. The increased buoyancy caused the device used to anchor a helium tank inside the third-stage engine’s oxidizer tanks to loosen.

The helium container bounced about once it was unfastened. This caused damage to the oxidizer tanks and the piping and led to the leakage both of the fluids. The engine was left without sufficient propellant, causing it to stop 46 seconds earlier. While the third stage deployed its payload successfully, it could not achieve enough speed to keep its orbit stable.

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South Korean officials hailed this imperfect launch as a major achievement, despite the fact that it was not perfect. Nuri’s predecessor, the Naro-1 rocket (KSLV-I), was restrained in its development due to limitations imposed on Seoul’s rocket industry by the US. This two-stage launch vehicle used a Russian second stage modified to make its successful launch. Nuri however is 100% domestically produced.

Seoul will launch four further Nuri rockets over the next six-year period, the first of which is scheduled for May 2022. The launch was supposed to be the last that used a dummy satellite payload. The committee’s report may result in a delay of that launch, however, Yonhap said.

South Korea invested $1.8 million in Nuri rocket programs alone for the development of space-faring capability. Seoul considers the expenditure worthwhile as it allows it to not rely on any foreign power for placing its military and civilian satellites in orbit. The current country does not have any military surveillance equipment in space and instead relies upon intelligence supplied by its allies, such as the US, to keep an eye on its neighbor North Korea.

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