Tomifumi Godai, a former president of the International Astronautical Federation, questions the level of contribution Russian technology is making to Korea's space exploration program. "The first-stage Naro rocket, which was manufactured by Russia, is not a finished product," Gadai, who is considered the architect of Japan's successful H-2 rocket launch in 1994, told the Chosun Ilbo last week. "Russia is using Korean money to test its Angara rocket," which is under development as Russia's next-generation space launch vehicle. "It would make sense if there is a complete sharing of information about the latest mishap, but the Russians produce the hardware and Korean scientists can't touch it."
This is the painful reality of Korea's space program. Although it is being pursued with the help of Russian scientists, the first stage of the rocket was imported from Russia at a cost of US$200 million. Yet Korean scientists cannot even touch the main booster, and search crews cannot recover the remains of the rocket from the ocean. There is no way Korea can learn from the mistakes of the latest launch.
Japan and the U.S. agreed after a summit in 1967 to share America's Delta rocket technology. Japan paid the U.S. 6 billion yen for the technology, which included the blueprint, and invested another 5 trillion yen to be able to manufacture the components itself. China got rocket technology from the Soviet Union back in the 1960s, when the two countries were allies during the Cold War. And with that help, it took Japan and China 20 to 30 years before they succeeded in developing a successful rocket program.
Korea's present technology to build liquid-fueled rockets is apparently at Japan's level during the 1970s. The Naro space program seeks to send a satellite into space now based on this technology. Confronted with obstacles in developing its own rocket due to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which is aimed at blocking proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, Korea chose to buy the first-stage booster from another country. The failed launch of the Naro demonstrates the limits of a space program which lacks its own technology.
Rather than betting everything on the third launch of the Naro rocket, Korea needs a new rocket development strategy. Even though it will take much more time, Korean researchers must put their heads together to upgrade and make the most of the home-grown Korea Science Rocket for the space rocket project. Korea also needs to bring in rocket engineers from advanced countries around the world and set up a support base that will not be swayed by politics. When it comes to space development, there is no single path to success.