Korea Aims for Wholly Homegrown Space Rocket by 2021

Korea aims to launch a space rocket entirely made with Korean technology in 2021, to overcome the taint of two failed launches of the Naro space vehicle, which was developed with Russia.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said on Tuesday it is looking for a researcher to lead the first stage development of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle II from 2011 to 2014. The government plans to invest W1.54 trillion (US$1=W1,080) in three separate stages by 2021 to develop a complete three-stage space rocket that can put a 1.5-ton satellite into orbit 600 km to 800 km above the earth.

◆ Technological Independence

The Naro space launch vehicle, which failed twice in putting a satellite into orbit, was the product of putting Russian and Korean technology together. The Naro used a Russian first-stage booster and a second-stage booster with a solid-fuel engine developed in Korea.

At the core of the new project is a 75-ton liquid-fuel engine being developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. Four of the engines will be mounted on the first-stage booster rocket, providing 300 tons of lift. The science ministry said it hopes to test-launch the rocket at the space center in Goheung in 2018 using just one 75-ton engine to check the key engine ahead of the official launch of the finished rocket in 2021.

Nine countries produce space rockets and satellites using their own technology: Russia, the U.S., France, Japan, China, the U.K., India, Israel and Iran. If Korea becomes the 10th member of the space club, the feat would boost the country's brand value enormously.

On a more practical level, a successful launch would give Korea the ability to launch its own satellites that would enable not only scientific research and weather forecasts, but monitoring for defense purposes as well.

The industrial impact would also be huge. Space technology combines the latest knowhow in the fields of mechanical, electrical, electronic and chemical engineering and new materials, and that could be used by Korea's aviation, shipbuilding, automotive and IT industries as well.

◆ Wider Expertise

The body responsible for the development of the rocket will be staffed from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and universities, research centers and private businesses. The science ministry said it "reflected criticism that a monopolistic system led by KARI in the development of the Naro prevented a wider range of expertise being gathered from local researchers."

Private businesses will be allowed to take part in the development from the initial stage, including the construction of the test facility and developing components. The first stage of the development project (2011-2014) will involve the development of the liquid-fuel engine, development and test launch of a second-stage rocket (2015-2018). The third stage (2019-2021) would culminate in the launch of the first space rocket made entirely with Korean technology.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 01, 2011 13:44 KST

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