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Rocket Booster Returns to Flight in Satellite Launch

Rocket Booster Returns to Flight in Satellite Launch
A Eurockot Launch Services Rockot booster launched the South Korean satellite KOMPSAT-2 into orbit on July 28, 2006. (Image credit: ELS.)

A modified Russian militarymissile now sold commercially for space launches successfully completed theorbital delivery of a South Korean observation satellite today. The rocket wasbouncing back from a bitterfailure last year that left the booster grounded for almost 10 months.

Blastoff from the PlesetskCosmodrome's complex 133 was at 3:05 a.m. EDT (0705 GMT), and the Rockot launchvehicle arrived in its targeted orbit less than an hour later. Officialsconfirmed the 1,764-pound KOMPSAT 2 payload separated from the rocket'sBreeze-KM third stage, and the launch was declared a success.

The Rockot's two lowerstages are from the SS-19 ballistic missile, while the Breeze upper stage isdesigned to complete the task of placing satellites into orbit. Eurockot - afirm jointly owned by German and Russian companies - markets the Rockot vehicleto satellite operators.

The launch marked thereturn to flight for the Rockot, whose second stage engine failed five minutesafter liftoff during a flight lastOctober. In that mission, a $170 million satellite to study Earth's polarice caps was lost.

An investigation found thesecond stage engine did not cut off at the appropriate time, but instead burneduntil it depleted its fuel tanks. This unstable shut down caused the rocket toveer out of control.

Further analysis showed thecommand to turn off the second stage engine was sent by an on-board computer,but a pressurization sequence on the Breeze third stage was not completed intime. Engineers believe the pressurization time was not loaded into thecomputer correctly, so the official cause of the accident was labeled as humanerror.

Strict constraints havesince been added to the pressurization timeline to ensure a similar event doesnot occur again.

"There are softwarechanges to the flight program, which will now be more rigid," said PeterFreeborn, Eurockot's sales director. "Verification (of) hardware andsoftware was improved, as were the direct communication links to the Russian authoritiesso that we will have greater transparency."

"We hope to strengthenour lead in the Asian market with this launch," Freeborn said. "Wewould particularly like to position ourselves for future satellites programsthe Republic of Korea is currently planning."

KOMPSAT 2 is setting off ona three-year mission to provide a wide variety of international customers witha new source of high resolution imagery of locations worldwide. In South Korea, the satellite is commonly called Arirang 2.

It is the second member of South Korea's multipurpose satellite fleet operated by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute basedabout 90 miles south of the capital city of Seoul.

The KOMPSAT series debutedwith the launch of the first satellite in 1999, and similar craft are in theworks for the future. A third satellite could be placed in orbit in 2009, andmore are expected to follow in the next decade.

Both satellites currentlyin space circle Earth in a 98-degree inclination Sun-synchronous orbit at analtitude of around 425 miles.

"This is our secondmission within the KOMPSAT series, and we are very happy to have achieved thelaunch success for KOMPSAT 2 with Eurockot," said Dr. Hong-Yul Paik,president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in charge of the satellite."I want to extend our thanks to everyone involved in achieving thisoutstanding launch."

KOMPSAT 2 carries a highresolution camera jointly developed by Israel's Electro-Optics Industries andKorean engineers. The imager can resolve objects as small as one meter inblack-and-white, while color pictures taken by the camera will have aresolution of four meters.

The detailed images will beused by South Korea in applications such as land management, crop andvegetation monitoring, ocean observations, and other environmental studies.Urban areas, disaster zones, and many other regions worldwide may also be aprime focus of the mission.

The new satellite will alsooffer South Korea free and immediate access to imagery on par with currentcommercial remote sensing capabilities. The QuickBird satellite fielded byDigitalGlobe offers customers a black-and-white resolution of about 60centimeters, and the company's two planned WorldView satellites will producepictures with half-meter resolution. Spacecraft operated by GeoEye - formed byORBIMAGE's acquisition of Space Imaging - are able to gather imagery withone-meter resolution.

KOMPSAT 2's camera provides45 times better resolution than earlier South Korean craft. With this increasedresolution, pictures from the camera could be sharp enough to spy on strategicsites such as missile bases and nuclear plants inside North Korea, a senior director in charge of the mission told The Korea Times newspaper.

Spot Image of France hasacquired the rights to sell commercial imagery from KOMPSAT 2. The imagedistributor says KOMPSAT 2 products are ideal for intelligence gathering andidentifying sensitive areas such as airfields, missile sites, communicationcenters, ports, and railroad depots, among others.

Korean officials brokered adeal worth $35 million with the European satellite-builder EADS Astrium tosupport the design and construction of KOMPSAT 2, according to a company factsheet. A much more inclusive contract was signed in 1995 between Korean satellitedevelopers and U.S.-based TRW to cover the first KOMPSAT craft.

A South Koreantelecommunications satellite is scheduled for launch in August aboard a Zenitrocket from a floating platform in the central Pacific Ocean.

Russia is also planning to allow a SouthKorean astronaut to fly to the international space station inside a Soyuzcapsule by 2008.

A separate agreement callsfor extensive Russian involvement in South Korean efforts to begin developing anew rocket to launch small satellites from its home territory in the next fewyears.

The next flight for theRockot is planned for next year when it will launch the European Space Agency'sGOCE mission to measure Earth's gravity field.

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Stephen Clark is the Editor of Spaceflight Now, a web-based publication dedicated to covering rocket launches, human spaceflight and exploration. He joined the Spaceflight Now team in 2009 and previously wrote as a senior reporter with the Daily Texan. You can follow Stephen's latest project at (opens in new tab) and on Twitter (opens in new tab).