SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will spend 874.2 billion won ($674 million) on space programs this year to expand its domestic space industry, develop a next-generation launch vehicle, and bolster space defense capabilities. It is a 19.5 percent increase from the previous year, and the most South Korea has ever budgeted for space.

Details of the budget, approved by the National Assembly in December, were announced following a March 31 meeting of space experts presided over by the vice science minister. The meeting reviewed all space-related budgets that are scattered across government organizations. President Yoon Suk-yeol hinted at a sharp budget increase in a Nov. 28 speech, in which he promised to double the government’s space budget in the next five years and funnel at least 100 trillion won ($76.8 billion) into the space sector by 2045. “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,” President Yoon said in the speech.

The double-digit hike marks “the first step toward the near-term goal of having a 1.5 trillion won [space] budget by 2027,” An Hyoung-joon, a research fellow at Science and Technology Policy Institute, a state-funded think tank, told SpaceNews, referring to the 4th revision of the Basic Plan for Promotion of Space Development, a five-year plan that covers from 2023 through 2027. “To get there, the budget should be expanded by 15~20 percent every year.”

The lion’s share of the budget, or 586.2 billion won ($450 million), will be used to expand the space industry. It will focus on developing civil satellites, including the nation’s own satellite navigation system, that would be applied to commercial products and services for non-space sectors. “To develop more civil satellites would help create new markets,” the science ministry said in a March 30 statement. While 48.7 billion won was set aside to advance integrated control of civil satellites, the government will spend 12 billion won on localization of satellite parts and components.

The second-biggest slice of the budget, or 148 billion won ($113.6 million), will go primarily to developing a next-generation carrier rocket that will succeed the current workhorse, KSLV-2. The new rocket KSLV-3, expected to debut in 2030, is designed to be a kerosene and liquid oxygen-fueled two-stage vehicle. Its first stage will have a cluster of five 100-ton thrust multi-stage combustion cycle engines, and the upper stage with two 10-ton thrust multi-stage combustion cycle engines. The two engines and rocket hardware will be developed by the state-funded Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), in collaboration with a private partner that will be selected by September. The KSLV-3 will be capable of delivering up to 10 tons of payload to low Earth orbit; 7 tons to sun-synchronous orbit; 3.7 tons to geostationary transfer orbit; and 1.8 tons to lunar transfer orbit. South Korea plans to launch a domestically developed robotic lunar lander on KSLV-3 by 2032. 

Nearly 95.4 billion won ($73.1 million) is allocated to space defense. It is part of a broader space defense strategy that will cost 1.42 trillion won ($1.09 billion) through 2030. Under the strategy, the Korean military will launch an undisclosed number of satellites to ensure “close and constant” monitoring of military activities on and around the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, the science ministry said March 30 that the third launch of KSLV-2 rocket is due between mid-May and late June. The exact date will be announced in April, the ministry added. The rocket’s second launch took place June 21 last year, putting a performance test satellite and four university satellites into low Earth orbit. In the upcoming flight, the rocket will carry eight satellites, including NEXTSat-2 as the primary payload and SNIPE, a constellation consisting of four 6U CubeSats to identify temporal and spatial variation of small-scale plasma structures in the ionosphere and magnetosphere. The SNIPE was initially set to launch last year on a Russian Soyuz rocket, but it was remanifested to KSLV-2 due to sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.

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...