SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s homegrown KSLV-2 rocket is slated to launch May 24, carrying a 180-kilogram technology demonstration satellite and seven cubesats. 

The mission, announced this week by South Korea’s science ministry, comes 11 months after the KSLV-2’s first successful satellite launch and 19 months after its partially successful debut.

If everything goes as planned, the kerosene and liquid oxygen-fueled rocket will lift off May 24 from South Korea’s Naro Space Center at 6:24 p.m. local time or 5:24 a.m. Eastern. An eight-day launch window for the mission closes May 31, according to an April 11 statement from the science ministry, which manages the nation’s civil space programs.

KSLV-2 can send up to 1.9 tons of payload to a 700-kilometer low Earth orbit, with a cluster of four KRE-075 engines in the first-stage booster, a KRE-075 engine in the second stage, and a KRE-007 engine in the third stage. 

South Korea plans to conduct four more launches, including the upcoming one, through 2027 to improve the rocket’s technical reliability.

In its October 2021 debut, KSLV-2 reached its intended 700-kilometer altitude, but the rocket’s third-stage engine shut down early, releasing its 1,500-kilogram dummy payload at less than orbital speed. The anomaly was later blamed on improperly anchored helium tanks inside the upper stage. 

KSLV-2’s second launch fared better, putting a performance test satellite and four smaller student satellites into low Earth orbit in June 2022.

“The rocket’s third launch is very meaningful as it marks the first trial to launch working-level satellites,” said Oh Tae-seog, vice science minister, in the statement.

KSLV-2 will carry eight satellites on the upcoming launch. 

The primary payload is NEXTSat 2, a 180-kilogram technology demonstration satellite developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). 

The seven other satellites, all manufactured domestically, are: a 4-kilogram Earth-observation technology demonstration cubesat JLC-101-v1-2; a 10-kilogram cosmic radiation monitoring cubesat Lumir-T1; a 6-kilogram earth observation and weather monitoring cubesat KSAT3U; and SNIPE, a constellation consisting of four 6U cubesats to identify temporal and spatial variation of small-scale plasma structures in the ionosphere and magnetosphere.

The satellites’ deployment will begin about 13 minutes after liftoff to ensure their operation at the target altitude of 550 kilometers, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, South Korea is developing a next-generation launch vehicle, KSLV-3. The kerosene and liquid oxygen-fueled two-stage vehicle is expected to debut in 2030. Its first stage will have a cluster of five 100-ton thrust multi-stage combustion cycle engines, and the upper stage with two 10-ton thrust multi-stage combustion cycle engines. The two engines and rocket hardware will be developed by the state-funded Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) in collaboration with an industry partner that will be selected by September. 

The KSLV-3 will be capable of delivering up to 10 tons of payload to low Earth orbit; 7 tons to sun-synchronous orbit; 3.7 tons to geostationary transfer orbit; and 1.8 tons to lunar transfer orbit. South Korea plans to launch a domestically developed robotic lunar lander on KSLV-3 by 2032.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...