Stalemate in South Korean Rocket Failure

The Korea Times has a story about the stalemate between KARI and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center over a possible third launch of the KSLV-1 (Naro-1) rocket, which has failed in its only two launch attempts.

The dispute centers on what failed during the second launch attempt on June 10: Khrunichev’s first stage booster or the South Korean-built second stage. KARI believes that the first stage failed, so Khrunichev should provide a third launch vehicle at its own cost for a flight next year. But the Russian firm disagrees.

In its first launch in August last year, the rocket achieved its desired speed and height, but failed to deliver its payload satellite into orbit.

The Russians are under contract to provide at least two launches, and a possible third should their technology related to the KSLV-I first-stage be found responsible for the failure of any of the first two attempts. KARI took the blame for the bungled first launch, and tension has been evident in the FRB meetings over the failure of the second launch, as the Koreans attempt to rope in their Russian counterparts for a third try sometime next year.

Observers believe there is a possibility that the Khrunichev Center, which clearly holds the leverages in the talks, may only commit to a third launch should Korea agrees to pay for it.

Buying a new rocket from the Russians will cost about 200 billion won, according to ministry officials, and some experts wonder whether the money will be better spent if the country just skips on the third launch and goes directly for the KSLV-II, which is aimed to be an indigenous rocket. The KSLV-II, which will be capable of carrying a bigger satellite than its predecessor, is slated for its maiden flight around 2020.

A Korean official said an agreement had been reached between the two parties over a third launch, but he would not disclose details citing confidentiality requirements.

Complicating the discussions is the fact that Khrunichev has “clearly approached the Korean rocket project as an experiment on course of developing their next-generation Angara rockets.” The Russians may want to just move on to building and testing Angara, which shares many of the same structural elements with the KSLV-1 first stage. Angara’s second stage is being paid for by the French, which has funded upgrades to the Soyuz variant that will soon begin flying out of Kourou.

Meanwhile, the inaugural launch of the first Angara keeps slipping. Originally planned for next year, it has now been delayed until 2013 due to financial issues.

“Vladimir Nesterov, head of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, said the rocket assembly would be completed in the first quarter of 2011, adding that the first-stage engine was “99% ready” and the second-stage engine had already been tested three times.

He said the only problem that could affect the schedule of tests was delays in the purchase of ground-based equipment that the center was unable to order due to underfunding….

The main purpose of the Angara rocket family is to give Russia independent access to space. The rockets will reduce Russia’s dependence on the Baikonur space center it leases from Kazakhstan by allowing the launch of heavy payloads from more northerly sites such as Plesetsk and a new space center in Russia’s Far East.

Angara is being designed as a family of rockets with a common core that would be capable of lifting 1 to 75 metric tons to orbit. It would replace several existing boosters, some of which are not made in Russia.