South Korea said Wednesday that it had put a satellite in orbit for the first time, giving a lift to its homegrown space industry and matching a feat achieved last month by its hostile neighbor, North Korea.
Amid a billowing plume of smoke, the Naro-1 rocket blasted off from a launch site perched on the edge of an island near the country's southern coast. South Korean television footage showed it ascending into the clear blue sky.
Officials and technicians watched the launch intently to see if it would succeed in delivering its payload into orbit. A crowd of onlookers near the site applauded and waved national flags.
About an hour after takeoff, Science Minister Lee Ju-ho declared the launch a success.
The pressure on the South Korean rocket scientists to get the satellite into space increased after North Korea carried out its own successful launch last month in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Only weeks before that, the South was forced to suspend its previous attempt to launch the Naro-1 rocket after finding problems with the electronic signal just minutes before it was due to take off.
The country's previous launch attempts in 2009 and 2010 had failed.
Wednesday's successful effort comes at a delicate time on the Korean peninsula: North Korea said last week that it plans to conduct a new nuclear test and carry out more rocket launches after the U.N. Security Council voted to tighten sanctions on the secretive regime.
Pyongyang didn't say when it intends to carry out the nuclear test, which follows previous underground detonations in 2006 and 2009.
Although the North's rocket launch last month managed to put an object in space, it was widely considered to be a test of long-range ballistic missile technology. It's unclear whether that satellite is functional.