Starting next year, South Korea will develop a reusable rocket with a cluster of liquid-fueled 100-ton thrust engines. Seen is KSLV-2 blasting off from the launchpad at Naro Space Center in Goheung, Oct. 21. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute

SEOUL, South Korea — Starting next year, South Korea will develop a reusable rocket with a cluster of liquid-fueled 100-ton thrust engines. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) will be responsible for its development, though a concrete timetable and other details of the mission are up in the air.

A ruling party lawmaker announced the plan Nov. 10 after a meeting attended by Minister of Science and ICT Lim Hye-sook and members of the National Assembly’s Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee.

“Starting next year, the development of a high-performance reusable rocket with liquid-fueled 100-ton thrust engines will begin,” said Rep. Cho Seung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who represents the committee. “Having such a liquid-fueled high-performance rocket engine is necessary [for South Korea] to successfully fulfill the missions of launching a [robotic] lunar lander by 2030 and building the Korea Positioning System by 2035 on its own.”

Cho said the envisioned engine will be “capable of controlling its thrust with four consecutive reburns,” a function which he said would “significantly slash launch cost.” The lawmaker said the government will carry out two-year preliminary research on the issue, with the budget of 12 billion won ($10.2 million) in hand.

The plan to develop a reusable rocket came as a surprise because “reusability” was nowhere to be seen in the government’s budget request for 2022 — in which South Korea’s next-generation rocket was supposed to be a single-use model that is “bigger and more powerful” than KSLV-2, a three-stage rocket launched Oct. 21 with four KRE-075 engines in its first-stage booster.

Cho didn’t explain what caused the change. He also didn’t clarify if the planned reusable rocket will be designated as the nation’s next-generation launch vehicle, or if it will be developed along with an advanced expendable rocket. The lawmaker said this issue, along with others meant to promote the domestic space industry, will be discussed during a Nov. 15 meeting at the National Space Council, the top decision-making government body on space issues under the Prime Minister.

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...