|Seoul launches space rocket
South Korea launched a rocket Wednesday in its third bid to put a satellite in orbit -- a high-stakes challenge to national pride after rival North Korea succeeded in the same mission last month.
A positive outcome after successive failures in 2009 and 2010 is critical to ensuring the future of South Korea's launch programme and realising its ambition of full membership of the elite global space club, AFP reports.
The 140-tonne Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-I) blasted off at 4:00 pm from the Naro Space Center on the south coast.
Space centre officials said it would take nine minutes for the rocket, with a first stage manufactured by Russia and a second stage built by South Korea, to reach its target altitude and deploy the payload satellite.
Success would mean a huge boost for South Korea -- a late entrant into the high-cost world of space technology and exploration and desperate to get its commercial launch programme up and running.
Despite a very successful satellite construction programme, it faces a long slog to catch up with the other Asian powers with proven launch capability -- China, Japan and India.
Initially scheduled for October 26, Wednesday's launch had been twice postponed for technical reasons.
The delay meant that rival North Korea beat the South by launching a satellite into orbit on December 12.
The North's launch was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test, resulting in UN sanctions that in turn triggered a threat by Pyongyang to carry out a nuclear test.
Wednesday's mission was the last under the South's current agreement with Russia, which agreed to provide the first stage for a maximum of three rockets.