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Seoul to double budget by 2027 to join global space race

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : March 13, 2024 - 15:18

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (third from right) visits the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province on Wednesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol (third from right) visits the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province on Wednesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap)

South Korea on Wednesday unveiled plans to set up a new space industry cluster in the next eight years that is not only capable of manufacturing satellites and rockets, but also astronaut training.

To aid the goal of space exploration, some 1.5 trillion won ($1.14 billion) of the budget will be allocated in 2027, up from the 836.2 billion won budget this year.

The funding will lay the cornerstone for South Korea's aerospace industry to bloom, Yoon said. He envisioned South Korea's boost in the market share of the world's aerospace industry from the current 1 percent to 10 percent by 2045, as well as the creation of some 250,000 new jobs in potential revenue in the space industry.

"By 2032, South Korea will launch the first mission to the moon, and by 2045, the first national flag will be erected on Mars," Yoon told some 450 participants during the ceremony to celebrate the launch of the cluster, held in the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.

Yoon said its administration is highly committed to building the new cluster, which he said will play a leading role in South Korea's journey to become one of the five countries that are home to spaceflight powerhouses.

"South Korea has been through a short history of 30 years regarding its commitment to the space sector, but we've come this far, becoming one of the seven space powerhouses with our homegrown moon rovers and space rockets," Yoon said. "Your hard work and dedication have remarkably borne fruit, and now is the time for us to take a bolder step toward space."

A total of 1 trillion won capital, according to Seoul's plan, will go to three areas forming the aerospace industry cluster: Sacheon, Goheung of South Jeolla Province, and Daejeon.

For the triangular cluster, Sacheon, poised to launch the state-run Korea Aerospace Administration (KASA) in May, will build a satellite development manufacturing center. The center will feature five cleanrooms -- which provide a controlled environment for sophisticated production processes -- as well as 26 types of equipment including a laser and a coordinate-measuring machine.

Goheung, which is already home to a space center that has a launch pad, a rocket assembly and test facilities will establish a new manufacturing hub and a new testing facility for space launch vehicles. A large three-dimensional printer will be among 10 types of equipment in the center.

As for the new aerospace training and research center in Daejeon, a science hub of the nation, a total of 16 facilities will be built to enable the hands-on training of space rendezvous and docking, as well as handling of space exploration rovers and the thermal structural analysis of space satellites. Each year, the center would be capable of training 1,500 professionals, according to Yoon. This came as just 5 percent of all aerospace industry workers in the country had academic degrees in fields related to space, as of 2021.

For three new facilities, a total of 600 billion won will be spent from this year until 2031. The state support, financially and technically will also be provided to encourage space players in the cluster to use homegrown parts.

President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers a speech at the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province on Wednesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers a speech at the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province on Wednesday. (Pool photo via Yonhap)

Separately, a new industrial complex in Goheung dedicated to space projectile production will be set up on a 1.73 square kilometers plot of land by 2030, on the back of 400 billion-won expenditure.

Sacheon's aerospace industrial complex on 1.65 square kilometers of land will be ready to attract companies and facilities beginning later this year.

Also, a new launch pad and an assembly facility will be built for commercial purpose rockets on a 24,000 square meter plot of land in Goheung. Environmental testing facilities for satellites will also be established in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province.

In addition, Yoon pledged to have South Korea produce at least 10 "world-class" companies dedicated to aerospace technology by 2045, partly with the expansion of the venture capital fund.

The government will also work to have its new cluster cooperate with those of foreign countries, such as the Kennedy Space Center of the United States and the Toulouse Space Center of France.

In May 2023, South Korea used domestically produced rockets to send research satellites into orbit from a South Korean launch pad. Moreover, a Korean spy satellite went into orbit following a successful launch in the US in November.