The South Korean and Russian government will form a joint probe team to look into the failed second launch of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV).
Seoul’s Science and Technology Ministry and the Russian Federal Space Agency have agreed to form a neutral investigation team excluding the concerned parties of the launch such as the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.
The Naro Cause of 2nd Failure Gov’t-level Joint Probe
The NaroThe Naro space rocket is the KSLV-I (Korea Space Launch Vehicle). It is a two-stage launch vehicle that is 33 meters long and 140 tons heavy with a diameter of 2.9 meters. It can place a 100 kilogram range satellite on the low Earth orbit. The first stage liquid-propellant rocket engine was produced by Khrunichev and the second stage solid-fuel rocket was made by KARI. The Naro’s first launch on Aug. 25, 2009 and its second launch on June 10, 2010 both failed. In the first launch, one end of the fairing, which is supposed to fall off when the first stage rocket separates, failed to do so. In the second launch, the Naro exploded in midair 137 seconds after blastoff. Korea and Russia then formed a joint failure review board (FRB) comprising 13 officials from Khrunichev and its partner companies and 13 officials from KARI. Based on probe results from each side, the board held four meetings up until early this year. But due to differing opinions, it failed to discover why the launches failed and passed the blame to the other side.
Cause of 2nd FailureInterim probe results were announced which said that the Naro suffered an impact (tremor) 136.3 seconds after blastoff and then a second impact (internal explosion) one second later at 137.2 seconds. The control office then lost contact with the rocket and it was confirmed that the Naro failed to launch successfully. The dispute begins here. Khrunichev argues that the flight termination system (FTS) didn’t work properly due to which the solid propellant in the upper kick motor burnt and this led to the explosion. The upper kick motor is the vehicle to place the satellite on orbit after the first stage rocket separates. The motor is designed to self-destruct if a problem arises with the flight trajectory. Russia says that since Korea developed this motor, Korea is responsible for the failed launch. Meanwhile, KARI suggests two theories as to why the liftoff failed. The first theory is that oxidizing agents leaked due to a malfunction or damage of a system with the first stage rocket and the leak ignited fire in the area connecting the first and second stage engines. KARI says an explosive bolt which is used to separate the first and second stage rocket engines could have also been the reason behind the first impact the rocket received. The first stage engine and the explosive bolt are both produced by Russia.
Gov’t-level Joint ProbeA bilateral civic probe failed to reach a conclusion for a year and the governments have now pulled up their sleeves. Seoul’s Science and Technology Ministry and the Russian Federal Space Agency have agreed to form a new probe team consisting of about 30 neutral experts who are not related to the parties of the project (KARI and Khrunichev). FRB’s activity will be suspended temporarily. The new probe team will first conduct more tests for verification and plans to holds its first bilateral meeting in July. The joint team will try to verify all possible hypotheses rather than focusing on singling out the cause of the failure and playing the blame game. Based on the contract, since the first two launches failed, the rocket production for the third launch is funded by Khrunichev. Rather than pointing fingers, both sides can work to make the third launch a success.