SEOUL - South Korea on Friday suspended by at least three days a scheduled rocket launch that would have marked its third attempt to send a satellite into orbit, officials said, citing a technical problem.
Juts hours before the launch, slated for Friday afternoon from the Naro Space Center on the south coast, officials in the control centre told reporters that a helium leak had been detected from the rocket's Russian-built first stage.
The problem will require the 140-tonne Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-I) to be removed from the launch pad and returned to the assembly facility, Deputy Science Minister Cho Yul-Lae said.
"We will set another launch date. But since we have to bring the rocket down, it will be delayed at least three days," Cho said.
"Engineers are investigating the precise cause of the problem," he added.
Officials had initially set a five-day launch window, ending October 30.
The launch is considered critical for South Korea's efforts to join an elite space club that includes Asian powers China, Japan and India.
As with two previous failed attempts, the KSLV-1 being used has a first stage manufactured by Russia, combined with a solid-fuelled second stage built by South Korea.
In 2009, the rocket achieved orbit but faulty release mechanisms on the second stage prevented proper deployment of the satellite.
A 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.
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