Korea's plans to launch an indigenous satellite this year have come to naught. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute originally planned to launch the Arirang-5 satellite in August last year aboard a Russian rocket under a W19 billion deal (US$1=W1,180) with an Uzbek-Kazakh company called ISC Kosmotras. But the Russian government has not yet issued a license without explaining why and did not respond to a request from Education, Science and Technology Minister Lee Joo-ho during a visit to Russia last week, to launch the satellite in the second half of this year.
Moscow has told Seoul that the launch can take place within six months if Korea buys another rocket developed by Russia.
Korea attempted to launch its own rocket, the Naro, in 2009 and 2010 using a Russian-made booster, but both launches failed. Korea has paid Russia US$200 million, but Russia provided Korea with rockets that had not even been tested yet. When the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2001, Russia promised to transfer key rocket technology but has yet to make good on the pledge. Instead, it is pressuring Korea to buy a completed rocket.
Space technology is an amalgamation of advanced technologies from electrical and electronic engineering to precision machinery, new materials and extreme engineering. The technology to build space rockets can lead to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. As a result, the Missile Technology Control Regime prohibits the sale of rocket technology for military purposes. Advanced countries rarely transfer rocket technology to less-developed countries.
Korea aims to develop its own rocket by 2021, but this lofty goal seems implausible as long as one state-run institute and a small handful of government agencies call all the shots. The successful launch of the Arirang-3 on May 17 through the Japanese-made H2A rocket was handled by large private companies like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, NEC and Toshiba, while the state-run Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency simply played a supporting role after designing the entire system. Korea needs a similar system that taps into the strengths of private companies, research institutes and universities.