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South Korea completes first space center

/ Source: The Associated Press

South Korea has completed its first space center and plans to launch a satellite from the site in July, the Science Ministry said Thursday, about two months after rival North Korea claimed it shot a satellite into orbit.

The planned launch, if successful, would mark the first time for South Korea to launch a rocket into space from its own territory. Since 1992, it has launched 11 satellites from overseas sites, all on foreign-made rockets.

The Naro Space Center was built on an island off Goheung, about 290 miles (465 kilometers) south of Seoul. More than 310 billion won ($250 million) was spent on the project, which took 4 1/2 years to complete, the ministry said in a statement.

Science Ministry official Shim Sung-eun said South Korea is the 13th country in the world to possess a space center.

A weather observation satellite to be launched from the space center on July 30 and key facilities at the space center were built with South Korean technology, but Russia helped build the two-stage rocket that will carry the satellite, the ministry said.

Rival communist North Korea has already developed a variety of missiles and launched a long-range rocket from a domestic launch site in early April in defiance of international warnings.

Pyongyang said the rocket carried a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful space development program, but the U.S. and its allies said nothing reached space and the launch was actually a test of the country's missile technology.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

The Science Ministry said South Korea plans to develop a space launch vehicle with its own technology by 2018 and a lunar module by 2025.

"Today, with the construction of this space center, we let the entire world know that our national strength has built up by one level," President Lee Myung-bak said in a speech at the new center. "In the near future, we can go to space and the moon with our own technology. To do so, we have to speed up developing our own Korean space launch vehicles based on the technologies we have acquired so far."