What SpaceX has shown us is that there is value in exploring space. South Korea also agrees which is why they will spend over $550 million in 2021 on space activities such as producing satellites (half the budget), an integrated satellite data management system, rockets, and other key equipment. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is the NASA of South Korea and they will be the ones in charge of advancing the space program in South Korea. While the United States, Russia, and Japan are the key leaders when it comes to space exploration, other countries such as China and India have been investing heavily into their space programs. So how does South Korea fair to these countries and what is the current state of their space program? We will go in-depth into where the space program in South Korea stands currently and its plans for the future.

The South Korean Space Program

The South Korean space program is in its infancy compared to the countries mentioned above. The yearly budget for KARI is $550 million. This pales in comparison to the United States which spends $22 billion a year for NASA, and Europe which spends 5.4 billion euros for Europe’s ESA. Furthermore, South Korea’s space research budget is one-third the size of Japan’s (JAXA). However, South Korea has the potential is rapidly catching up to these countries based on their alliances.

International partnerships will be key for the Space program in South Korea. Through these partnerships, they will not have to build an expensive space infrastructure from the ground up. By leveraging the space capabilities of other countries, South Korea can quickly catch up. Space collaborations are very common. NASA for example has pursued many international cooperation programs.

SpaceX Korea
Source: Space.com

In July of 2020, SpaceX launched South Korea’s very first exclusive military communications satellite called the Army Navy Air Force Satellite Information System-II (ANASIS-II). Moreover, South Korea successfully launched its carrier rocket called Nuri (200-ton KSLV-2) this year. It was a huge step for the further development of Korea’s space capabilities. 30% of the $550 million will go toward’s further research and development into Nuri. The ultimate goal will be to send up multiple satellites at once. In addition, they also launched a next-generation medium-sized satellite. A Korean mid-sized satellite on Russia’s Soyuz rocket was launched in March of this year from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. The purpose of the satellite is to monitor urban areas and topographical features and design maps.

The Future of the Space Program in South Korea

Space Program in South Korea

There are 2 multipurpose observation satellites that are under development and will be sent into orbit in 2022. Furthermore, a microsatellite constellation is being developed. However, the biggest news in regards to the future of the space program in South Korea is their commitment to moon exploration. Close to $50 million will be set aside for developing Korea’s first lunar orbiter. The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, which is set to launch in August 2022 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will to programmed to take images of the moon.

South Korea will start a follow-up rocket program in 2022. The aim of the program will be to launch a more powerful rocket in 2029. This is currently a big issue due to the possible military applications. In addition, there is the possible development of a long-range missile program. This will draw eyes not only from North Korea but also from China. However, having a strong rocket/missile defense program will be critical moving forward as North Korea continues to refine, expand, and test its missile capabilities.

Make no mistake, North Korea is and will continue to be the primary driver of South Korea’s missile program. The department in charge of the missile program in South Korea is South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD). However, they will need to follow strict guidelines set through the U.S.-South Korea missile guidelines (set up in 1979) which have been revised as early as July of 2020. Furthermore, South Korea will continue to improve its intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance capabilities against North Korea through military surveillance satellites. Future successful launches of surveillance satellites in particular will allow South Korea to not fully depend on the United States for their surveillance in order to monitor North Korea