Russian sanctions throw South Korean satellite missions into uncertainty

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea, at least for now, is pushing forward with its planned launch of two satellites on Russian rockets this year. Still, it doesn’t rule out the possibility that the missions could be delayed due to sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.

South Korea’s CAS500-2 remote sensing satellite is set to launch in the first half of this year on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. South Korea’s KOMPSAT-6 multipurpose satellite, equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), is due to launch in the second half of the year on a Russian Angara rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. “For now, nothing has changed to the plan,” Korea Aerospace Research Institute spokesman Roh Hyung-il told SpaceNews. “We are taking a close look at how the situation unfolds because it could have a significant impact on our missions.” He admitted that it’s “very likely” that the satellites won’t be launched as planned.

The KARI spokesman said he “wishes everything would be settled peacefully as soon as possible so that the missions would proceed as originally planned.” But if South Korea is put in a situation where it won’t be able to use Russian vehicles, he added, launching the satellites this year will be “impossible.”

If the international sanctions hitting Russia remain in place long-term, the restrictions would deal a “substantial blow” to South Korea’s space programs, Roh said. In collaboration with the private sector, South Korea’s government plans to develop and launch over 100 small satellites by 2031 to establish a national security monitoring system and test next-generation network communications. They include 40 SAR satellites that the defense ministry will develop for national security and 14 communications satellites that the science ministry will build to explore 6G technology.

“Some of them will go into space on homemade rockets and some on foreign vehicles,” he said. “If Russia is excluded from options available…it’s a big problem.”

Meanwhile, South Korea no longer depends on Russia when it comes to launch vehicle development. Russia played a key role in developing South Kore’s KSLV-1 rocket, which flew three times between August 2009 and January 2013 from Naro Space Center here. The rocket’s first stage was powered by an RD-151 engine developed by Russia’s NPO Energomash. Based on lessons from KSLV-1 development, South Korea set off in 2010 to develop a fully homemade satellite launcher, KSLV-2, which came to fruition in October last year. While the KSLV-2 reached space, it failed to put its dummy payload into orbit. A second KSLV-2 launch attempt is slated for June 15.