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MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government is back on alert as South Korea again attempts to launch a rocket into space.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) again raised a Red Alert status Tuesday, January 29, as it monitors the launch of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-I).
After two previous failures in 2009 and 2010, the 140-ton KSLV-I is scheduled to blast off some time after 3:55 pm (0655 GMT, 4:55 pm Philippine time) from the Naro Space Center on the country's south coast.
The Philippine government was formally informed by the South Korean government through a letter sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs' Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs last January 23.
The NDRRMC has raised a no-sail, no-fly, no-fishing zone in the area off Luzon where parts of the rocket will fall as part of the launch. The payload fairing and booster rocket will fall separate minutes after the launch, and are expected to fall east of the Bicol and Samar area.
Regions currently under monitoring are Calabarzon (IV-A), Bicol (V), Eastern Visayas (VIII), Caraga, and Davao (XII), all on the country's Pacific coast.
The regional disaster and risk management councils in the said areas are on standby mode and are continuously monitoring the launch.
Several scenarios are expected by the agency:
- The fuel tank falling into the Pacific Ocean intact
- The fuel tank falling into the water in several pieces
- The fuel tank burning into ashes
During the red alert period, maritime activities in affected areas will be closely monitored, and flights will be diverted to avoid the flight path of the satellite.
This is South Korea's third bid to send a satellite into orbit -- a watershed moment for the future of the country's space program and a high-stakes challenge to national pride.
The pressure surrounding the mission has risen considerably in the wake of rival North Korea's successful launch of a satellite on an indigenously-built carrier in December.
Final preparations for Wednesday's launch were also being made under the North's threat of an imminent nuclear test, which would quickly deflate any congratulatory bubble arising from a successful mission.
Success would mean a huge boost for South Korea -- a late entrant into the high-cost world of space technology and exploration and desperate to get its commercial launch program up and running.
Despite a very successful satellite construction program, it faces a long slog to catch up with the other Asian powers with proven launch capability -- China, Japan and India.
A final dress rehearsal was carried out on Tuesday, January 29, involving launch simulations of both the rocket's Russian-built first stage and the South Korean-built second stage.
Successful or not, this will be the last launch under the current agreement with Russia which agreed to provide the first stage for a maximum of three rockets.
"The pressure is on the South Koreans like never before," said independent space analyst Morris Jones.
"There are several converging factors -- the two previous failures, North Korea's success and the fact that this is the last chance with this particular rocket model," Jones said.
Seoul's space ambitions were restricted for many years by its main military ally the United States, which feared that a robust missile or rocket program would accelerate a regional arms race, especially with North Korea.
After joining the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2001, South Korea made Russia its go-to space partner, but the relationship has not been an easy one.
In 2009, the rocket achieved orbit but faulty release mechanisms on the second stage prevented proper deployment of the satellite.
The second effort in 2010 saw the rocket explode two minutes into its flight, with both Russia and South Korea pointing the finger of blame at each other.
"Another failure would prompt a lot of mud-slinging," said Jones.
Whatever the outcome of Wednesday's launch, South Korea insists it remains committed to developing a totally indigenous three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket capable of carrying a 1.5-ton payload into orbit by 2021. - with reports from KD Suarez, Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com