Aug 03 2009
Special thanks to Kumhee, a Seoul native, for encouraging this topic.
South Korea continues to aggressively, but carefully pursue its long-term vision of joining the top 10 space powers in the world within a decade. Unlike its neighbor to the north — which has used burgeoning international interest in space exploration, as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, as an unconvincing cover for its attempted development of a long-range missile capability — South Korea has played skillfully and carefully by the rules.
Aerospace America, in its Asia Update for July-August, 2009 (M. Westlake), notes that South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2001, which allows it to seek technology transfer from space-faring nations for use in their peaceful space program. And recently, with the help of Russia, South Korea has built a brand new space launch complex at Naro, on an island about 500 km south of Seoul.
The Russian connection was an interesting outgrowth of South Korea’s early experience with U.S. tactical missiles (e.g., Nike) and the establishment in 1990 of the Korea space agency (Korea Aerospace Research Institute; KARI) featuring their development of 1 and 2-stage sounding rockets (KSR-1 & 2) and a small lox/kerosene U.S. Vanguard-class rocket motor.
The idea was to launch their own satellite. But requests for assistance from the U.S. were unwisely refused on geopolitical grounds. According to Aerospace America,
Anxiety in Washington about Seoul’s possible military use of rockets against neighboring North Korea had the effect of driving South Korea’s scientists into the arms of Russia.
KARI has announced that it will launch its first rocket from the Naro Space Center next week on August 11; the launch window is from the 11th to the 18th. The $ 400 M, 140 ton KSLV-1 launch vehicle will insert into orbit a small (220 lb) scientific satellite with dual channel radiometers and a laser reflecter array.
If successful, it will make South Korea the 9th nation to launch a domestically-built satellite from its home country. According to senior KARI researcher Cho Gwang-rae,
You can’t be expecting much from such a simple device…The real test will be in 2017, when we will be attempting to send a real-purpose satellite with a fully domestically developed rocket. If we succeed in that, we can then say we have a space industry.
If a KSLV successfully delivers the planned 1.5 ton Korean satellite to orbit in 2017, the prospects for South Korea’s own manned space program will be good. As of now, one Korean has already been in space: bioengineer Yi So-yeon went to the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz in April, 2008.
Yi sees great benefits not only for commercial and scientific development, but for motivating youth to prepare for the 2015 Maslow Window:
Before becoming an astronaut I was not as aware of the strides that we need to bring in our educational system, and how important it really is to provide the young people — students in schools and colleges — with the right tools and, above all, inspiration.