SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Wednesday it successfully launched a satellite into space from its own soil for the first time, a point of national pride that came weeks after archrival North Korea accomplished a similar feat to the surprise of the world.
The South Korean rocket blasted off from a launch pad in the southwestern coastal village of Goheung. Science officials told cheering spectators minutes later that the rocket delivered an observational satellite into orbit. There was no immediate confirmation that the satellite was operating as intended.
The launch is a culmination of years of efforts by South Korea — Asia’s fourth-largest economy — to advance its space program and cement its standing as a technology powerhouse whose semiconductors, smartphones and automobiles command global demand. North Korea’s long-range rocket program, in contrast, has generated international fears that it is getting closer to developing nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S.
South Korea’s success comes amid increased tension on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s threat to explode its third nuclear device. Pyongyang is angry over tough new international sanctions over its Dec. 12 rocket launch and has accused its rivals of applying double standards toward the two Koreas’ space programs.
Washington and Seoul have called North Korea’s rocket launch a cover for a test of Pyongyang’s banned ballistic missile technology.
Both Koreas see the development of space programs as crucial hallmarks of their scientific prowess and national pride, and both had high-profile failures before success. South Korea tried and failed to launch satellites in 2009 and 2010, and more recent launch attempts were aborted at the last minute.
The satellite launched by Seoul is designed to analyze weather data, measure radiation in space, gauges distances on earth and test how effectively South Korean-made devices installed on the satellite operate in space. South Korean officials said it will help them develop more sophisticated satellites in the future.
U.S. experts have described the North’s satellite as tumbling in space and said it does not appear to be functioning, though Pyongyang has said it is working.
The South Korean rocket launched Wednesday had its first stage designed and built by Russian experts under a contract between the two governments. North Korea built its rocket almost entirely on its own, South Korean military experts said earlier this month after analyzing debris retrieved from the Yellow Sea in December.