South Korean leader eyes “landing on moon in 2032, Mars in 2045”

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South Korea aims to establish a national space agency modeled after NASA by next year.

SEOUL, South Korea — President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea said Nov. 28 that the country will land a robotic spacecraft on the moon in 2032 and on Mars in 2045, when the nation will mark the 100th anniversary of liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule.

This was part of a set of broader space exploration goals the president unveiled during a keynote speech at the Korea Space Forum 2022 here. To reach the ambitious goals, he promised to double the government’s space development budget in the next five years and funnel at least 100 trillion won ($74.7 billion) into the space sector by 2045. South Korea’s space budget for 2022 is 734 billion won ($553 million).

“In the future, countries with a space vision will lead the world’s economy and will be able to solve the problems that humanity is currently facing,” the president said. “The dream of becoming a powerhouse in space is not distant. It will be an opportunity and hope for children and the youth.”

Yoon pledged to develop a next-generation rocket engine for the moon mission in five years and launch a national space agency modeled after NASA by next year. The envisioned agency, tentatively named Korea Aerospace Administration (KASA), is expected to offer integrated management of state-funded space programs currently scattered in various departments and agencies, under the supervision of the science ministry. 

Yoon didn’t elaborate on the next-generation engine, which he said will be developed in five years. A science ministry official managing the engine development was not immediately available for comment. The kerosene and liquid oxygen-fueled KRE-075 engine, used to launch South Korea’s first homegrown space rocket KSLV-2, is the most advanced rocket engine the country has developed. And the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) started developing liquid-fueled 100-ton thrust engines this year for future missions.

The president didn’t explain why the target year for moon landing was pushed back to 2032 from 2030, set by his predecessor. Chang Dong-soo, a science ministry official involved in the moon landing project, told SpaceNews that the longer-than-expected time to develop a lander and a carrier rocket could be blamed for the delay.

Landing on Mars is a new objective for South Korea. Details are expected to be included in the 4th revision of the Basic Plan for Promotion of Space Development, a five-year plan that covers through 2027.

“By 2045, we will be able to plant our national flag on Mars,” Yoon said. “To make this happen, we will develop unimaginable technologies and explore uncharted areas.”

In light of this, he said the government would step up public-to-private transfer of space technologies and launch a funding program for up-and-coming space companies. And the president himself will chair the National Space Council, the top decision-making body on space issues, currently controlled by the prime minister.

On top of this, the president emphasized that South Korea will strengthen its ties with the United States in the space sector, especially regarding national security.

“The Korea-U.S. alliance will be extended into the Korea-U.S. space alliance, and we will expand the cooperation with the international society in space security,” he said.