A Busy Launch Year on the Korean Peninsula

Nuri rocket lifts off from the Naro Space Center on June 21, 2022. (Credit: KARI)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first seven months of the year were busy one for launches on the Korean Peninsula that saw a successful test of South Korea’s first domestically developed orbital launch vehicle and a pair of suborbital flights of two small satellite boosters. North Korea tested an imaging system for a reconnaissance satellite on a suborbital flight and launched a series of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The launch of the Nuri rocket from the Naro Space Center on June 21 was a major breakthrough for the nation’s space agency, Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The first orbital-class launcher produced entirely in South Korea carried seven payloads supplied by KARI and four universities.

Nuri Launch Payloads
June 21, 2022

PayloadAgency/UniversityPurpose
Performance Verification SatelliteKARIVerify rocket performance
Monochrome Imaging for Monitoring Aerosol by NanosatelliteYonsei UniversityMonitor find dust on Korean Peninsula
Repeater Arrangement & Disaster Early ViewKorea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST)Gather hazard image data from volcanoes, coasts and clouds
SNUGLITE-IISeoul National UniversityAmateur radio communications
Space Technology Experimental Project CubeSat Laboratory 2 (STEP Cube Lab 2)Chosun UniversityEarth observation
Mass simulatorKARILaunch vehicle evaluation
Dummy satelliteKARILaunch vehicle evaluation
Source: Wikipedia

Nuri, which is also known as Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II (KSLV-II), is designed to give South Korea its own domestic launch capability. Five other Asia-Pacific nations — China, India, Japan, New Zealand and North Korea — have launched satellites into orbit from their own soil.

It was the second launch of the new satellite booster. Nuri failed on its maiden flight in October 2021 due to a design flaw in its third stage.

It was only the second orbital launch from South Korea. A Naro-1 booster consisting of a Russian liquid-fuel first stage and a South Korean solid-fuel second stage launched the STSAT-2C technology demonstration satellite in January 2013. The booster, which was retired after its successful flight, had failed during two earlier launch attempts.

Nuri is designed to launch 2,600 kg (5,732 lb) into a 300 km (186 mile) high low Earth orbit (LEO) or 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) into a 600-800 km (373-497 mile) high orbit.

Test model of the Nuri (KSLV-II) booster. (Credit: Ministry of Science and ICT)

The three-stage, 47.2 meter (154.9 foot) tall rocket has a gross weight of 200,000 kg (440,925 lb) and a diameter of 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). Nuri’s first stage is powered by four KRE-075 engines with a specific impulse of 289.1 seconds. A single KRE-075 vacuum engine powers the second stage, with one KRE-007 engine on the third stage. All six engines use Jet A-1 fuel and liquid oxygen.

South Korean engineers are working to developed a lighter and more powerful version of the KRE-075 engine that would increase Nuri’s payload from 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) to 2,800 kg (6,173 lb).

Engineers also have plans to develop a Nuri variant capable of launching satellites into geosynchronous orbit. The first stage will be powered by four KRE-090 engines with four side boosters each equipped with a single KRE-90 engine. The second stage will be powered by a KRE-090 engine, and the third stage by a KRE-010 engine.

KARI designed the Nuri rocket with Hanwha Aerospace manufacturing the engines. Korea Aerospace Industries oversees final assembly of the booster. Hyundai Heavy Industries built the launch complex. Development costs are estimated at 1.96 trillion won (US $1.7 billion), which includes the development of the Naro spaceport.

South Korea is making a major effort to improve the nation’s launch vehicle technology. Last September, the Ministry of Science and ICT held an online video conference with South Korean aerospace companies to discuss a five-year, 687.38 billion won ($587.31 million) plan that began this year.

“The Ministry of Science and ICT can improve the reliability of Korean launch vehicle through the Korean launch vehicle upgrade project (new in 2022, hereinafter referred to as the ‘Advanced Project’), while transferring the Korean launch vehicle development technology to the private sector to raise the industrial launch vehicle development capability,” the ministry said in a press release.

“For the upgrade project, the host company will systematically transfer projectile development technology and know-how from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute while jointly carrying out the production and repeated launches of the launch vehicle,” the press release added.

Launch of Blue Whale 0.1 rocket. (Credit: Perigee Aerospace)

Suborbital Flights

On March 24, South Korean startup Perigee Aerospace conducted the third flight test of its Blue Whale 0.1 from Jeju Island. The suborbital rocket tested technology for Blue Whale 1, a two-stage orbital booster powered by liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas.

Blue Whale 1 will be capable of orbiting satellites weighing 40 kg (88.2 lb) into a 500 km (310.7 mile) high sun synchronous orbit, or 50 kg (110.2 lb) into a 500 km (310.7 mile) high low Earth orbit. Launches are planned from Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in Australia.

North & South Korea Suborbital Flights
January – June 2022

DateOrganizationPartnerLaunch VehicleLaunch SitePurpose
Feb. 26, 2022KPA Strategic Rocket ForceNational Aerospace Development AdministrationHwasong-17Sunan International AirportTested imaging system for future reconnaissance satellite
March 24, 2022Perigee AerospaceKorea Advanced Institute of Science and TechnologyBlue Whale 0.1Jeju IslandThird flight test of smallsat launcher
March 30, 2022South Korea Ministry of National DefenseSolid Fuel Space ProjectileJackup sea installationSmallsat launcher flight test
Source: Wikipedia

Perigee has received investment from Samsung Venture Investments and LB Investment. The company has also received support from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), which is a national research institute.

Six days after Perigee’s launch, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense launched the Solid Fuel Space Projectile with a dummy payload on a suborbital flight. The launch was part of a development program aimed at producing a booster capable of launching 500-kg (1,102.3 lb) satellites into orbit. The first orbital flight is scheduled for around 2024.

South Korea’s solid-fuel space projectile launches on a flight test on March 30, 2022 (Credit: South Korea Ministry of National Defense)

North Korea was also busy with suborbital flights. On Feb. 26, the People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force launched the two-stage Hwasong-17 ICBM an apogee of about 620 km (385 miles) from the Sunan International Airport. The flight’s purpose was to test an imaging system for use on a future reconnaissance satellite.

The People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force conducted six other flight tests of its Hwasong family of ballistic missiles. On March 24, a Hwasong-17 ballistic missile reached an apogee of approximately 6,248.5 km (3,883 miles) and re-entered the atmosphere 1,090 km (677 miles) downrange of its launch site.

On April 18, South Korea Dosan Ahn Changho submarine launched two Hyunmoo 4-4 within 20 seconds of each other in a pair of successful flight tests.