Korea Takes 1st Solo Step into Space

      June 22, 2022 13:20

      Korea succeeded in launching its first homegrown rocket into space from the Naro Space Center in South Jeolla Province on Tuesday, placing a dummy satellite into geosynchronous orbit. Technicians fixed a glitch that caused a previous launch in October of last year to fail and the Nuri or Korea Space Launch Vehicle II (KSLV-II) successfully separated and completed its mission. Korea is now only the seventh country in the world to be able to launch a satellite into space entirely with its own technology.

      Korea spent around W2 trillion over the last 12 years to develop the Nuri and some 300 companies took part in the project (US$1=W1,294). Space rockets are dual-use technology that can be converted into intercontinental missiles, so countries are reluctant to share knowhow with others. Rocket designs developed in the 1950s remain classified to this day. Korean scientists scoured museums overseas to study old rockets and retrieved documents discarded by Russian researchers who visited Korea to obtain the necessary technology. Their blood, sweat and tears led to the successful launch on Tuesday.

      Advanced countries are competing fiercely in space, which is viewed as the future of industry. They are coming up with plans for space stations, space hotels and lunar bases. Already, tickets for trips to space have sold in their hundreds despite the exorbitant price of over W500 million, while the U.S. company Space X is valued at W160 trillion. European countries led the maritime age in the 15th and 16th centuries and ended up dominating the world, and experts say those who win the space race could reap equally huge benefits in the years to come.

      The Korea Aerospace Research Institute plans to conduct four more rocket launches by 2027 before transferring the technology to the private sector. Decades of experience accumulated by NASA led to the creation of the Space X program, and Korea should develop a similar space ecosystem using the Nuri rocket. Korea's first lunar orbiter Danuri will be launched from the U.S. in August of this year, and Korea plans to send a lunar landing module in 2031.

      Korea has built its own space center, launched a homegrown rocket and secured the technology to place a satellite into orbit. But it still lags far behind the leaders in space technology and must overcome numerous hurdles, such as developing a reusable rocket and the capacity to send heavier satellites into space. This will take decades to achieve. President Yoon Suk-yeol's pledge to create a Korean version of NASA is an important start. At the same time, fearless space entrepreneurs such as Innospace, Perigee Aerospace and Contec will have to grow into key players in the space industry.

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