People living on an artificial planet other than Earth, and traveling through the vast universe on space junk cleaners. Those who feel so familiar with life outside the Earth are characters in the movie, <Seungriho (Space Sweepers)>. As such, the universe, which has previously been only a part of the movies and has been regarded as an unknown area, is gradually entering people's daily lives. Space industries have become a reality one by one and emerge as new blue oceans. The main players leading this change are rocket ventures such as "SpaceX" and "Blue Origin." The space industry is no longer a country-specific area.
New Space is coming
The space industry is changing from Old Space to New Space. New Space refers to an era in which government-led space development is transferred to private-led space. As a result, active participation in space development by private companies is starting, such as sharing space development infrastructure monopolized by the government with the private sector and promoting technology transfer with the private sector. According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Space Foundation, a non-profit space organization, the total size of the global space industry was $447 billion (about 523 trillion won), up 4.4 percent from 2019. Compared to 2015, it shows a rapid growth of 55% and 176% from 2005. Among that, the private-led commercial space industry accounted for $356.6 billion won, up 6.6 percent from 2019, accounting for 79% of the total market. Looking at the rapid growth of the space industry compared to 20 years ago, the world is now looking for new value in space. Ahn Hyungjoon, head of Research Policy 2 at Science and Technology Policy Institute, said, "If space has been the object of conquest and exploration since the 1950s, it is now a commercial space that is used for advertising and tourism through satellites."1) As such, the world is currently moving beyond fostering the space industry to a space economy that produces added value in space.
Since the advent of the New Space era, space competition among private companies has been developing at a rapid pace. Space X, a U.S. private aerospace company led by Elon Musk, successfully returned 'Inspiration 4,' with only civilians as crew members, on September 18. It is orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 590 kilometers above the International Space Station (ISS). This is the third time SpaceX has returned an astronaut from space, and the mission has even set records for the first civilian astronaut, the first non-professional astronaut, the first black female astronaut, the youngest American astronaut to date, and the first disabled person with artificial arms to fly into space. Earlier in July, Blue Origin's manned spacecraft 'New Shepard' and Virgin Galactic's manned spacecraft 'VSS Unity' also succeeded in space tourism with civilians on board. 'New Shepard' loaded a manned capsule with passengers and flew vertically, then went into semi-orbit at an altitude of 107km. Both enjoyed zero gravity for a short time after climbing to a quasi-orbit close to 100 km (the Kármán line), the boundary of the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. As such, the era of New Space for private companies has arrived, and the reaction of citizens is positive. In August 2019, Cowen, a U.S. investment bank, estimated a 2.4 million potential demand for a "quasi-orbit trip" that travels to Earth's boundary on a vessel like Virgin Galactic's airship. In addition, 39% of the wealthy with net assets of more than $5 million (about 5.7 billion won) said they were willing to buy semi-orbit travel tickets.2) The space industry of private companies is actively progressing with the development of technology and positive responses from people.
A new road that we have never taken before
The Korean space industry is at an inflection point. This year, South Korea is experiencing various space events such as the lifting of the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guideline, securing technology for the solid engine, and launching the 'Naro.' With the complete lifting of the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guideline, South Korea can develop ballistic missiles without restrictions on range, along with securing technology related to space military power, including the development of space rockets for military satellites. In addition, the lifting of the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guideline has enabled solid engine tests, whose development has previously been restricted. A solid engine space launcher is one that gains thrust with solid fuel that burns faster than a liquid engine. This has the advantage of being able to launch quickly at any time to avoid surveillance by intelligence satellites. Therefore, the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guideline restricted the development of solid engines. However, two months after the South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guideline was completely lifted after 42 years, a solid engine combustion test for space launch vehicles was successful. Announcing this, the government said, "We expect to take a step closer to the seven major space powers following the United States, Russia, China, Europe, Japan, and India."3) The independent space launch vehicle 'Naro' is scheduled to be launched on October 21. The reason why 'Naro' is more meaningful is that it was developed based on liquid engine technology. South Korea can secure liquid engine space launch vehicle technology and solid engine space launch vehicle technology at the same time. Lim Jongbin, the head of the Research Policy team at Science and Technology Policy Institute, said, "So far, we have made a lot of efforts to pursue technology and achieved some results, but now we have to take a leap forward to compete with advanced countries."4) The domestic space development is expected to change rapidly as the launch of 'Naro' and the development of solid engine space launchers enable private companies to release space launchers for commercial purposes and revitalize the satellite launch market.
Along with the global trend of New Space, companies are also joining the new space industry in Korea. Hanwha Aerospace signed a business agreement with six government-funded research institutes in the field of science and technology, including the Korea Institute of Geological and Mineral Resources. This is the first time that a joint study with a private space company has been conducted for ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization). ISRU technology produces necessary supplies using astronomical resources. This business agreement is very meaningful as the first step toward space ISRU technology development and the first example of cooperation with the private sector, said Kim Gwangeun, acting director of the Korea Institute of Geological and Mineral Resources.5) Along with Hanwha's first government-funded research institute and the new space industry, Hangul and computer groups have also joined. Hancom Group is the first Korean private company to launch an ultra-small satellite for earth observation. Hancom Inspace, an affiliate of Hancom Group's aerospace sector, announced plans to launch Korea's first Earth Observation Civil Satellite 'Sejong 1' in the first half of next year in cooperation with Spire Global, a U.S. space satellite company. On September 2, Kim Yeonsoo, general manager of future strategy at Hancom Group, said at an online press conference, "We will mark a new milestone in the video data field through this satellite launch." Along with the expansion of corporate investment in the new space industry, a revision to the Space Development Promotion Act was also unveiled. This revision, announced by the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) in August, calls for fostering space companies by revitalizing space development and expanding investment in the private sector. Lim Hyesook, the MSIT, said, "The government plans to continue to develop core technologies, build infrastructure, and improve driving private-led space development and technology competitiveness through the development of the space business."6) In line with the changing era of New Space, companies and countries are preparing for a space economy that produces added value in space.
The limit of the Korean Peninsula
As such, government-led space development in the past is gradually changing into public-private cooperative space development led by private companies. Nevertheless, Korea's space industry still has institutional limitations. First, Korean space launch sites are in poor condition. With the advent of the new space era, many start-up companies are entering the space business. However, they are struggling because they cannot find an appropriate launch site and combustion test site. There is "Naro Space Center" on Oenaro Island (485 kilometers south of Seoul), but it is a facility dedicated to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) that is working on the Nuri project, so private companies cannot use it. For this reason, the MSIT announced in June a plan to build a private launch site in Cheongseokgeum next to the site of the Naro Space Center, but it won't be completed until the end of 2024. For Korean private companies, that's a wait of at least three years. In fact, Korea's small land mass makes it difficult to meet the conditions of a launch site that requires at least 2 million square meters. There is also a lot of sea and air traffic near Korea, making it difficult to set the launch point. The Naro Space Center, the only place of its kind in Korea, also has limited conditions as a launch site as the angle at which the space rocket can be freely launched is only 15 degrees. In fact, the best place for a Korean space launch site is Marado Island, according to a government survey. However, construction of the Marado Space Center was canceled due to opposition from residents and environmental groups. In response, space policy expert Kim Kyungmin said, "It is very unfortunate that Korean space startups remain homeless because they cannot find launch sites and combustion test sites in the era of private-led new space competition. In reality, the best way is to set up a private launch site and a combustion test site as soon as possible in Goheung-gun, where the Naro Space Center is located." The global new space industry is seeing fierce competition, but Korean space companies are not able to proceed smoothly due to poor conditions.
In addition, the necessity of establishing an organization dedicated to the space industry and expanding the budget has been steadily raised. Currently, five major space powers (G5: the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan) as well as China and Russia are establishing independent administrative organizations. On the other hand, the KARI, a department under the MSIT, is in charge of space development in Korea. For this reason, the space development budget is organized around the MSIT and the KARI, and only a certain amount of the budget is allocated to private industries. An industry official said, "There is a structural limitation that it is difficult to reflect the opinions of private companies due to the policy led by the MSIT. The policy is being established in accordance with the opinions of industries, the largest consumer of space development policy, and 'centralized decision-making' that does not take into account the level of domestic technology."7) Power is being abused because it does not have a dedicated organization but operates as an affiliated organization of a government agency. In response, Ahn Hyungjoon, a researcher at the Science & Technology Policy Institute, said, "In order to switch to private-led space development, the government should recognize companies as investment partners, not technology transfer targets. From a market revitalization point of view, private companies should be able to recover their investments through a certain percentage of investments in space development and exclusive use of satellite operations or satellite data."8) It is necessary to expand the foundation systematically for private companies. In addition, the government budget and professional manpower are insufficient. The Korean space development budget last year was $720 million, 0.04% of its GDP, the lowest compared to the G5, China and Russia. The KARI budget ($480 million) and manpower size ($1,000) are also in the lower ranks. Private investment and technology levels are also low. According to 2018 OECD statistics, private space industry R&D investments numbered $26.4 billion in the United States, $3.4 billion in France, $2.4 billion in the United Kingdom, $2 billion in Germany, and $800 million in Japan. Korea was the lowest at $400 million, half that of Japan. According to the National Science & Technology Information Service, the technology level was also low when comparing China (89), Japan (86), and Korea (60) (the US=100). In response, the Federation of Korean Industries advised in a report that in order for Korea to become a space powerhouse, it is necessary to establish an independent space development organization such as "Korean NASA," expand budget and manpower, expand participation of private companies, and strengthen space cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. In order for Korea to occupy a global position in the era of new space, a lot of effort will be required to overcome the current limitations.
Be a leader, not a follower, in the New Space
Science and technology have developed steadily for a long time, and this time it is the turn of outer space. Currently, various efforts are being made to develop the space industry around the world, and Korea is also preparing to keep up with the trend. The government's efforts to revise laws and expand the system in line with the New Space era are desirable, but to become a true leader in the space industry, it is necessary to reconsider whether the direction is appropriately in line with reality or not. Since private companies are leading the era of new space, if there is adequate government support for them, they will be able to leap forward as a space industry powerhouse.
1) Jo Seunghan, "From Space Development Policies and Technology Securing to Security, Diplomacy, and Economic Strategies", Donga Science, September 25, 2021
2) Lee Jaemyeong, "When Can Ordinary People Who Are Not Billionaires Go on Space Tours?", Yonhap News, July 12, 2021
3) Kim Minsu, "[Premium Report] Will a Solid Launcher Be the Starting Point for a Leap Forward in Private Space Development?", Donga Science, September 25, 2021
4) See Footnote 1
5) Jo Seunghan, "Hanwha Is Also Working on Mining Space Resources", Donga Science, September 9, 2021
6) See Footnote 3
7) Cho Sungho, ""To Foster the Lagging Space Industry Into a Future Industry..." the Core of the "Newsface Era" Is the Transition to a "Private" Initiative", monthly Chosun, October 19, 2020
8) Jung Jongoh, ""Company in the Era of Newspace..." Policy Beneficiaries → Change to an Innovative Investment Partner", iNews 24, June 13, 2021
Kim Seol Yunha / Reporter
Oh Song Minyeong / Reporter