Seoul: A South Korean rocket trying to put a satellite into orbit appears to have exploded on Thursday less than three minutes after blast-off, the science and technology minister said.
Science and Technology Minister Ahn Byong-man told reporters the Naro-I rocket is thought to have blown up 137 seconds after blast-off, when ground control lost contact with it.
"The Naro appeared to have exploded in flight," Ahn said.
The satellite was meant to study climate change.
The rocket was launched after a one-day delay due to malfunctioning firefighting equipment near the launchpad at the coastal Naro space centre in Goheung, 290 miles (465 kilometres) south of Seoul.
The rocket lifted off successfully on Thursday, loaded with an observation satellite for studying global warming and climate change, but aerospace officials lost contact with the rocket 137 seconds later, the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute said.
"We will seek ways to find the satellite," Lee Joo-jin, head of the space agency told reporters, without elaborating.
The blastoff at the coastal Naro space centre in Goheung, 290 miles (465 kilometres) south of Seoul, was the country`s second launch of a rocket from its own territory. In the first attempt last August, the satellite failed to go into orbit because one of its two covers apparently failed to come off after liftoff.
Since 1992, South Korea has launched 11 satellites from overseas sites, all on foreign-made rockets.
The first stage of the two-stage Naro rocket was designed and built by Russia and the second by South Korea.
The launch came amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula after South Korea referred North Korea to the UN Security Council over the sinking of a Navy ship that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
North Korea — which denies involvement in the sinking — has threatened to retaliate against South Korea for taking it to the UN body, saying the South`s action will intensify military tension and could trigger a war.
There was no immediate North Korean reaction to the planned launch by South Korea. Last year, North Korea said it would closely watch the international response to South Korea`s launch after a North Korean rocket launch drew a UN rebuke.
North Korea has developed a variety of missiles and launched a long-range rocket from a domestic site in April last year in defiance of international warnings. It said the rocket carried a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful space development program, but the US and its allies said nothing reached space and the launch was actually a test of long-range missile technology.
South Korea plans to develop a space launch vehicle with its own technology by 2020.