07/15/2022, 13.51
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Seoul's race towards space handed over to the private sector

by Guido Alberto Casanova

After the successful launch of the Nuri rocket - with technology developed entirely in the country - the South Korean government plans to hand over the leadership of the Kari aerospace programme to companies. A new agency entirely dedicated to the development of the "space economy" will open its doors in the city of Sacheon.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korea has been recognised for decades as an industrial powerhouse, a technological vanguard and a beacon of innovation. From semiconductors to telecommunications to electric cars, the country is a key player in many fields and South Korean companies have large market shares. In aerospace, however, Seoul was generally considered to be lagging behind other advanced economy countries, at least until a few weeks ago.

On 21 June, the Nuri space rocket, also known as KSLV-II, was successfully launched from the Naro space centre in southern South Korea. The launch was successful, putting two test satellites into orbit. Consisting entirely of in-house developed space technology, Nuri has enabled South Korea to become the seventh global power capable of performing this feat on its own, from design to operation. "Following communication with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) ground station in Daejeon, the deployment capability of the Nuri-launched satellite itself has been fully confirmed," announced the Ministry of Science and ICT.

The development path has taken years. In October 2021, another Nuri was launched into orbit but the results had were not considered satisfactory. The 2013 launch, on the other hand, had been successful, but it was a much less advanced version and still depended on the import of some important components from Russia.

With Nuri's success, a new chapter opens for the South Korean aerospace industry. The project, despite KARI's leadership, was driven by private investment: of the .5 billion invested, 80% of this came from private companies. Hanwha Aerospace took care of the engine construction, while Hyundai built the launch pad. In all, over 300 companies were involved.

South Korea from this point of view is following a general trend in the space economy, which by 2040 could be worth USD 1 trillion, as the rise of SpaceX well illustrates. Now, following Nuri's success, the South Korean government plans to speed up the transition of the space programme's leadership from KARI to private companies. "We will invest boldly to open the era of the space economy," said President Yoon Suk-yeol as he congratulated the engineers and scientists who achieved the launch.

The government has promised to reform the industry from the ground up, primarily by removing aerospace functions and projects from bureaucratic fragmentation and merging them into one central administration. The new agency should open its doors in the city of Sacheon, an important hub where many of the country's aerospace industries are based, in order to strengthen public-private cooperation. Furthermore, to strengthen South Korean competitiveness, the conservative president has promised to transfer the satellite and launch technologies developed during the Nuri project to the country's enterprises.

As Lee Jong-ho, the new Minister of Science and ICT, said, the private sector will play a greater role in public policy, particularly in the aerospace sector. "In an era when technology is sovereignty, the public and private sectors must consolidate their capabilities to strengthen strategic investments and unreservedly support and fortify the innovation ecosystem of industry, academia and research," he had said during his inauguration in May.

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