SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea launched a satellite into space from its own soil for the first time yesterday amid increased tensions after archrival North Korea accomplished a similar feat and was condemned by the United Nations.

The South Korean rocket blasted off from a launchpad in the southwestern coastal village of Goheung. Science officials told cheering spectators minutes later that the rocket delivered an observational satellite into orbit. Officials expected to know today whether the satellite is operating as intended.

A crowd gathered around a TV at a train station in downtown Seoul to watch the launch.

The launch is a culmination of years of efforts by South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, to advance its space program and cement its standing as a technology powerhouse whose semiconductors, smartphones and automobiles command global demand.

North Korea's long-range rocket program, in contrast, has generated international fears that it is getting closer to developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the United States.

Pyongyang is angry about tough new international sanctions over its Dec. 12 rocket launch and has accused its rivals of applying double standards toward the two Koreas' space programs. The North has threatened to explode its third nuclear device.

Washington and Seoul have called North Korea's rocket launch a cover for a test of banned ballistic missile technology by Pyongyang.

North Korea recently acknowledged that its long-range rockets have both scientific and military uses, and Kong Chang-duk, a professor of rocket science at South Korea's Chosun University, said the same argument could apply to the South.

South Korean satellites were already in space, launched from other countries.

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