SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A South Korean rocket carrying a

climate observation satellite apparently exploded 137 seconds into

its flight early Thursday, the country's second major space setback

in less than a year.

The two-stage Naro rocket operated normally during and after

liftoff from the country's space center, Minister of Education,

Science and Technology Ahn Byong-man said. But then communications

with the rocket were lost.

"We believe that the Naro rocket is likely to have exploded,"

he told reporters. "We are sorry for failing to live up to

people's expectations."

He said South Korean and Russian experts were trying to find the

cause of the problem.

The blastoff at the coastal space center in Goheung, 290 miles

(465 kilometers) south of Seoul, was the country's second launch of

a rocket from its own territory. In the first attempt last August,

the satellite failed to reach orbit because one of its two covers

apparently failed to come off after liftoff despite the rocket

launch itself being considered a success.

Since 1992, South Korea has launched 11 satellites from overseas

sites, all on foreign-made rockets.

The first stage of the two-stage Naro rocket was designed and

built by Russia and the second by South Korea.

South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology,

which oversees the space program, says South Korea plans to develop

a space launch vehicle with its own technology by 2020.

China, Japan and India are Asia's current space powers. Japan

has launched numerous satellites while China sent its first

astronaut into space in 2003 and carried out its first spacewalk in

2008.

India launched a satellite into moon orbit in 2008, but had to

abandon it nearly a year later after communication links snapped

and scientists lost control of it.