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South Korea launches first rocket into space

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A Television grab image of the South Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1

SEOUL (PTI): South Korea's first space rocket blasted off Tuesday in a long-delayed launch but failed to place a satellite into its designated orbit, officials said.

In an event watched guardedly by rival North Korea, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 lifted off on schedule at 5:00 pm (0130 IST) atop a tail of flame, to the jubilation of officials at the Naro Space Centre.

The first stage separated successfully less than five minutes after lift-off and the South Korean-built 100-kilogram scientific research satellite was placed into Earth orbit.

But science and technology minister Ahn Byong-Man said it was not following the designated orbit, hampering communications with mission control.

"All aspects of the launch were normal, but the satellite exceeded its planned orbit and reached an altitude of 360 kilometres (225 miles)," Ahn said.

It should have separated at around 302km.

"A joint probe is under way by South Korean and Russian engineers to find the exact cause," the minister said.

Experts from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told Yonhap news agency they were trying to track the whereabouts of the satellite and declined to say if contact could be made later.

They said that despite the satellite's failure to reach its proper orbit, the launch should be seen as a "half success" since the rocket functioned without any problem.

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