South Korea cancels third launch of homegrown rocket due to technical problems

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SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea cancelled the third flight of its homegrown space rocket on Wednesday because of technical problems hours before a launch that was meant to mark a significant step in its burgeoning space programme.

South Korea is aspiring to be a key player in space technology, competing with its Asian neighbours.

The technical glitches are most likely communication errors between computers that control a helium relief valve, officials say. The vehicle itself does not show any problems, so it will remain on the launch pad for a rescheduled test.

South Korea's deputy science minister, Oh Tae-seok, told a briefing that a meeting on Thursday would decide when another launch could take place, perhaps as early as Thursday afternoon.

In June 2022, the country successfully launched its domestically produced Nuri rocket and placed working and dummy satellites into orbit in its second test.

The third test would be the first to load and launch a commercial-grade satellite aboard the Nuri vehicle, standing on the pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, on the southwestern tip of South Korea.

The country plans to carry out three more test launches of the Nuri system by 2027.

The planned launch on Wednesday also comes amid an arms race around South and North Korea, which are technically still at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice.

North Korea is preparing to launch its first military spy satellite, state media has reported. South Korea has no military surveillance satellites, relying on information from its major ally the United States.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)