(Bloomberg) -- South Korea successfully launched its own home-grown Nuri rocket Thursday, bolstering the country’s commercial and military aerospace capabilities and joining a small group of countries capable of developing and launching their own space vehicles.
The 200-ton, three-stage liquid-fueled rocket lifted off from the Naro Space Center on the country’s southern coast at 5 p.m. local time before releasing a dummy satellite into orbit about 700 kilometers (435 miles) above Earth, live TV broadcast of the launch showed.
The rocket was developed by Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It marked a major advancement over South Korea’s two-stage Naro space vehicle built with domestic and Russian technology, which was hit by delays and two failed launches before a successful flight in 2013.
The launch comes just a few months after the U.S. removed Cold War-era limits on South Korea’s rocket development. The country has recently made advances in both its military missile capabilities and civilian program, playing catchup with more advanced space programs in China and Japan.
South Korea sees its rocket program as bolstering its competitiveness in next generation 6G communications and helping it place more eyes in the sky as neighboring North Korea adds to its arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. The two Koreas are still technically at war.
South Korea has scheduled five additional launches by 2027 -- with a plan to eventually send an unmanned spaceship to the moon by 2030, after striving to send a probe there for more than a decade.
Washington has welcomed the advances in South Korea’s space program, including the country joining NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the lunar surface. South Korea said it has joined a list of six countries that have developed and launched space vehicles with a satellite weighing more than a ton.
The U.S. ally also aims to fully activate its “425 Project” of high-resolution surveillance satellites as early as next year. The program would have civilian and military applications, including the capability to monitoring the entire Korean Peninsula and possibly China.
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