Photo of South Korea's CAS500-2 satellite
South Korea’s CAS500-2 remote sensing satellite is seen at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s manufacturing facility. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s science ministry plans to set aside 47.2 billion won ($32.9 million) in next year’s budget to launch two satellites that have been left grounded because of Western sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine. Once the requested budget is endorsed by congress, the ministry will nix the existing launch contracts with Russia and make a “package deal” with a launch company in the United States or Europe for the two satellites: CAS500-2 remote sensing satellite and KOMPSAT-6 multipurpose satellite. 

Rep. Park Wan-joo revealed this Sept. 28 based on information he had secured from the ministry that manages South Korea’s space programs. According to the lawmaker, the ministry seeks 37.4 billion won ($26.1 million) for KOMPSAT-6 and 9.82 billion won ($6.86 million) for CAS500-2.

“Under consideration are launch companies in the U.S. and EU,” the ministry said in a document sent to the lawmaker, “Once the requested budget is endorsed by the congress, we will revoke the existing contracts with Russia, and then sign a new contract with a launch service provider in a manner that we have done so far.”

While the ministry didn’t specify launch companies it wants to talk with, reports indicate that the ministry would choose one between SpaceX and Arianespace. The ministry’s spokesman refused to comment on the issue. In August, Kwon Hyun-joon, a senior science ministry officer, told SpaceNews that the two satellites’ launch would be conducted by a single company under a “package deal” with the Korean government.

The CAS500-2 spacecraft, built mainly by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), was supposed to launch in the first half of this year on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan under a 2017 contract with GK Launch Services. The KOMPSAT-6 satellite, co-developed by KAI, LIG Nex1 and Airbus Defence and Space, was due to fly in the second half of the year on a Russian Angara rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Yet, the plan went awry with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

On top of this, the document shows the ministry has found it “almost impossible” to get back from Russia the 47.2 billion won ($32.9 million) it already paid for the launch of three satellites this year, including CAS500-2 and KOMPSAT-6. The remaining one is a set of nanosatellites called SNIPE. The ministry paid 28.7 billion won ($20 million) for KOMPSAT-6, 17.4 billion won ($12.15 million) for CAS500-2, and 1.1 billion won ($760,000) for SNIPE. The ministry said the existing contracts with Russia contain a clause allowing the contracts to be revoked without or limited reimbursement when a “force majeure” occurs, though it didn’t give further details. The ministry sees the ongoing war as something that would leave Russia fully immune from reimbursement. The ministry plans to nix the contracts for CAS500-2 and KOMPSAT-6 regardless of the possibility of requesting any reimbursement, while keeping the contract for SNIPE in place, hoping it would enable another Korean satellite to launch on a Russian rocket in the future.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...