Artist’s view of Korea Positioning System. South Korea is on the path to building its own satellite navigation system, in cooperation with the United States, by 2035. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute

South Korea has set off on a journey to build its own satellite navigation system, in cooperation with the United States, by 2035 to provide more accurate and reliable position, navigation and timing information across the country.

Named “ Korea Positioning System” (KPS), the project cleared the government’s budget feasibility study June 25, taking one step closer to winning the proposed budget of 3.72 trillion won ($3.3 billion) by the Ministry of Science and ICT, which has pushed forward with the project since 2018. If the budget is approved by the National Assembly, the ministry will begin initial work next year to establish KPS by 2035 by launching eight new satellites — three satellites into geosynchronous orbit and five into inclined geosynchronous orbit. The first satellite for KPS will be launched in 2027, with a trial service scheduled for 2034 and a full-fledged one the following year, according to the ministry.

The KPS, when established, will make South Korea the seventh nation in the world to have its own satellite-based positioning, navigation and timing system, after the U.S., Russia, Europe, China, India and Japan. Its coverage encompasses Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

“The Korea Positioning System is an essential infrastructure for Korea in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With cooperation between Korea and the U.S., we will be able to make a successful development,” said Kwon Hyun-joon, a senior official of the Space, Nuclear and Big Science Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Science and ICT, in a statement. “It will also make a big contribution to bringing more investment in the domestic space industry, as well as invigorating it.”

U.S. President Joe Biden promised to support the KPS project during the May 21 bilateral summit with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the White House. During the meeting, the two leaders reached an agreement on “civil global navigation satellite systems cooperation,” under which the U.S. will support South Korea’s KPS development and enhance its compatibility and interoperability with the existing GPS.

“Technological support of the U.S. is very important to develop KPS, especially when designing its signals and frequency band,” said An Hyoungjoon, a research fellow at Science and Technology Policy Institute, a South Korean state think tank. “They have to be designed to get compatible with the existing GPS. Otherwise, KPS won’t be able to make an expected performance, and it will also have a negative impact on GPS.”

According to experts, GPS has an error of up to 20 meters in distance measurement in South Korea, which is too wide to be applied to run self-driving cars, urban air mobility and other forthcoming innovative products and services that require extremely accurate position information. This can be reduced to 2.5 centimeters when GPS and KPS are put in practice together harmoniously, they said.

The ministry said KPS will create nearly 60,000 jobs and spark 8 trillion won worth of production. Companies involved in the KPS project include LIG Nex1, Asia Pacific Satellite Inc., Danam Systems, ACE Technologies and Hancom InSpace.

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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...