Korea's Space Program Is Making Rapid Headway

      October 22, 2021 13:19

      Korea on Thursday succeeded in launching its first fully homegrown Nuri space rocket which separated without any hitches as it flew along its trajectory, but failed to place a dummy satellite in orbit. This is still an enormous achievement with scientific, industrial and security implications, even if the final goal of placing a satellite in orbit remains elusive for now.

      The Naro, Korea's first space launch vehicle, used a booster engine from Russia, but the Nuri was made with 100-percent Korean technology over a period of 11 years. Around 300 companies took part in the development, which cost W1.96 trillion (US$1=W1,178). Naro is the name of an island off the southwestern coast that houses Korea's space station of the same name, while Nuri means "the world." The new rocket can carry a payload of 1.5 tons, which is 15 times heavier than the Naro, and can fly to a maximum altitude of 700 km, or more than twice as high as the predecessor. At present, only the U.S., Russia, France, Japan, China and India are capable of launching a rocket carrying a satellite weighing more than a ton.

      Thursday's failure to accomplish the whole mission should not discourage anyone working on the space program. The success rate of the first rocket launches is only around 30 percent, so by any count Korea did exceptionally well. Now work begins on discovering why the third-stage engine cut out and the dummy satellite lost propulsion, so that the second launch next May can be a success. Advanced countries have already begun an era of private space travel that drastically cuts costs through the use of reusable launch vehicles. This is a very difficult technology to master, but Korea too should get to work it.

      The space program will not only secure future technology but also strengthen the country's defense capabilities. Space is turning into a battleground between the U.S. and China, and a new space race is just around the corner. Although Korea lags far behind, the government must provide active support so that budding scientists can delve into the space industry and create companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. If they meet the challenge, Korean companies will be able to shine in the aerospace industry just as they have done in the semiconductor and shipbuilding sectors.

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