SEOUL – South Korean space officials halted the countdown on a crucial rocket launch Thursday, aimed at placing a satellite in orbit and announcing the country’s entry into an elite global space club.
The countdown was suspended just 17 minutes before the scheduled launch time of 4:00pm (0700 GMT) at the Naro Space Center on the south coast, after a possible propulsion problem was detected in the rocket’s second stage.
“Preparations for the launch have been temporarily suspended due to technical problems,” Deputy Science Minister Cho Yul-Rae told reporters.
Cho said a final decision on whether to proceed would be taken in the next 30 minutes.
The launch of the 140-tonne Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-I) had initially been scheduled for October 26, but was postponed after engineers detected a broken rubber seal in a connector between the launch pad and the first stage.
After successive failures with the same rocket in 2009 and 2010, Thursday’s mission was seen as critical to the future of South Korea’s space program.