South Korea’s first domestic space launch vehicle KSLV-2 lies horizontally on a giant rocket-carrying vehicle at the Naro Space Center. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute

SEOUL, South Korea – Starting next year, South Korea’s government will transfer state-owned space launch vehicle technologies to domestic aerospace companies in a move to help them penetrate an expanding global space launch market. To that end, the government will spend 687 billion won ($593 million) from 2022 through 2027, said the Ministry of Science and ICT, Sept. 7.

Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) — a state-run space technology developer that has played a central role in developing the nation’s first domestic space launch vehicle, KSLV-2 — will be responsible for the public-to-private transfer, according to the ministry. KSLV-2, nicknamed Nuri, is a three-stage liquid-propellant rocket capable of sending a 1.5-ton satellite into low Earth orbit. The rocket is set to make its first demonstration flight in October from Naro Space Center in Goheung, the only launch site in South Korea.

The transfer will be done in a way KARI and selected companies do joint development and launch tests.

“The time has come to make a departure from state-led development of space launch vehicles toward one in which the private sector plays an expanded and more active role,” said Yong Hong-taek, the science ministry’s vice minister, in the statement. 

The policy reconfirms the government’s commitment to accelerating public-to-private transfer of space technologies. It comes as SpaceX and other innovative private companies play increasingly important roles in the global space industry. In the first move of this kind, since May, KARI and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have transferred their satellite-manufacturing technologies to a handful of major aerospace companies here. 

While the science ministry didn’t  identify the companies that would benefit from the latest tech transfer, the most likely beneficiaries include Hanwha Aerospace, Innospace, Perigee Aerospace and Korean Air.

Hanwha is a major rocket engine developer here, which contributed to KSLV-2’s development with engine assembly and supply of key components. Innospace is a hybrid rocket startup, and Perigee is developing a methane-fueled smallsat launcher. Korea Air, South Korea’s biggest airline, is developing technologies to launch small satellites from its Boeing 747-400 cargo planes — the same way Virgin Orbit launches customers’ satellites into orbit.

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...