U.S. to Lift Cap on Range of S.Korean Rockets

  • By Ahn Jun-yong

    January 29, 2020 11:47

    The U.S. has agreed to lift caps on the range and force of civilian South Korean rockets. That could remove a major obstacle to Korea's goal of developing a solid-fuel rocket capable of putting a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

    Government sources said Tuesday that negotiations between the U.S. and South Korean governments to revise missile guidelines have reached the final stage of ironing out the details to ease thrust and range limits on civilian rockets using solid-fuel boosters.

    The U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines from 1979 had been revised three times -- in 2001, 2012 and 2017 -- but limits remained in place capping their thrust at 1 million pounds per second, which is just 1/10 of the thrust of rockets used by advanced countries, and their range at 800 km.

    The two sides have held behind-the-scenes negotiations about another revision since 2018. The caps have come in for increasing criticism at a time when North Korea is developing long-range, solid-fuel missiles.

    Scrapping the limits will give South Korea's civilian space program a considerable boost. Solid-fuel rockets are simpler to design and cheaper to build than liquid-fueled ones as well as being easier to transport and launch because there is no need to pump in fuel.

    The U.S. maintained the caps because it did not want South Korea to use the technology to build missiles for military use. But South Korea promised to use them only for civilian purposes and reasoned that the South lags far behind its neighbors in terms of rocket technology.

    There are concerns that scrapping the limits could incite protests from China and North Korea, but a government source said, "Inter-Korean relations have nothing to do with revised missile guidelines for our civilian space program."

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