The satellite .

The satellite should have separated at about 302 kilometers, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. Photo by BGNES .

A Satellite launched atop South Korea’s first space rocket is thought to have burnt up in the earth’s atmosphere after missing its designated orbit, officials said on Wednesday.

Seoul vowed to press on with its drive to become a space technology leader despite Tuesday’s setback, caused by the defective operation of a fairing covering the satellite.

The science and technology ministry said one of the two aerodynamic fairings covering the rocket’s tip failed to fall away after opening in preparation for the satellite’s release.

Because of the fairing’s weight the second stage of the rocket could not achieve enough thrust to place the satellite in orbit. Its speed fell to 6.2 km per second instead of an optimum eight km.

Deputy science minister Kim Jung Hyun said the extra weight also caused the rocket to steer upwards and the satellite to be released at an altitude of 387 km, far higher than the planned 302 km.

South Korea had invested more than 500 billion won (RM1,409 million) and much national pride in the satellite and the 33-metre rocket.

The first stage was built in collaboration with Russia’s Khrunichev space centre. The second stage, including the defective fairings, was constructed by local engineers who also built the 100-kilogram research satellite.

‘South Korea was in charge of the separation of fairings while Russia was in charge of overall technical assistance. Therefore the two countries share the responsibility,’ Mr Kim told reporters.

‘Further discussions (with Russia) will be held on this point.’ The launch had been delayed seven times since 2005, most notably last week when the countdown was stopped eight minutes before blastoff.

‘We can say it was half successful, though the satellite failed to enter orbit,’ President Lee Myung Bak told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening. — AFP