Reliance on Russia 'Wasted 15 Years of Rocket Development'

      May 24, 2012 11:41

      Korea's rocket technology remains at the level of Japan's in the 1960s even though its satellite technology may be superior, an expert at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency told the Asahi Shimbun last Thursday. The comments came a day before Korea's Arirang-3 satellite (also known as KOMPSAT-3) was put into orbit by Japan's H-2A rocket.

      The space rocket Naro is launched at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province on Aug. 25, 2009. /Courtesy of Korea Aerospace Research Institute

      Japan began developing its own space rocket in the 1960s. Korea attempted to put a satellite into orbit in 2009 and in 2010 aboard a rocket, dubbed Naro, that was partly made in Russia, and both attempts failed. Korean scientists now feel the country wasted 15 years of independent rocket development by relying on Russian technology.

      A space rocket is an enormously complex technological device and contains some 100,000 parts. Having the knowhow has huge economic and industrial ramifications for a country. One example is airbags for cars, which require solid-fuel ignition.

      Korea began developing a space rocket in 1998. Initially, it tried to develop a small scientific research rocket and bundle several of them together to create a home-grown booster. But slow progress prompted Korea to turn to Russian technology in 2002.

      But this has been a disappointment. Russia declined to transfer rocket technology in 2006 and decided instead to build a booster and hand it over to Korea. Korea had to postpone its satellite launch plans while Russia kept making new demands.

      "If we had severed technological ties with Russia and pursued independent research on rocket development back then, we would be testing our own first-stage booster now," said Cho Jin-soo at Hanyang University. "We won't be able to find out why any launch fails unless we develop our own rocket."

      "The launch of the Naro rocket was pursued hastily due to political concerns," said Chang Young-keun at Korea Aerospace University. "We need to devise a new strategy and go back to the drawing board using our own technology."

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