SEOUL — South Korea on Wednesday succeeded in thrusting a satellite into orbit for the first time, achieving its ambition of joining an elite club of space technology leaders, seven weeks after the successful launching of a satellite by rival North Korea.
South Korea has attached an intense national pride to the 140-ton, 108-foot-tall Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, or KSLV-1, which was built with the help of Russian technology. Feeling besieged by China and Japan, both of which have successful space programs, South Korea has sought a technological prowess of its own.
That task gained more urgency after North Korean successfully placed a rocket into orbit on Dec. 12. Only a handful of countries have succeeded in independently launching satellites into orbit, with Iran also recently joining the club. After studying the debris of the North Korean rocket that splashed into South Korean waters, officials here determined that North Korea, despite its backward economy, has locally built key components of its rocket.
With all major South Korean television stations broadcasting the countdown live, the two-stage rocket blasted off from the newly built Naro Space Center in Goheung, 200 miles south of Seoul.
‘‘After analyzing the data, we determined that our satellite entered its intended orbit,’’ said Lee Ju-ho, the government’s minister of education, science and technology, during a nationally televised news conference. ‘‘Today, we took a leap toward becoming a power in space technology. This is a success for all the people.’’
Although part of the two-stage rocket was built by the Russians, South Korea considered the successful launching Wednesday an important toehold in space technology, the latest high-tech market where the country has decided to become a player. By 2021, it said, it will launch a completely indigenous three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket capable of carrying a 1.5-ton payload into orbit.
The current satellite, which has a one-year operational lifespan, will mainly collect data on space radiation.