Seoul: South Korea's ambitious space programme is all set to cross a major milestone with the country's first space center, the Naro Space Center, nearing completion.
Being built on 4.95 million square meters of land on Naro Island in Goheung, about 485 kilometers south of Seoul, the 300 billion won ($323 million) center will have a launch pad that can be used to send four rockets a year into space, a main control centre, a radar tracking station, as well as a rocket-assembly and booster-test facilities. The centre is scheduled for completion next year.
According to officials, construction work on the centre, which began in early 2003, is about 95% complete, with only the launch pad remaining to be built. Once the facility is fully operational, South Korea will be able to achieve its goal of building a satellite and rocket with indigenous technology and launching them into space from their own launch centre, officials said.
South Korea plans to launch a rocket, called the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), along with an experimental satellite in December. If successful, S Korea will become only the thirteenth country in the world to launch rockets into space. So far, South Korea has accessed foreign boosters to launch its satellites into space. The country has sent ten scientific, communications and multipurpose satellites into space, with the latest, Arirang-2, being put into orbit last July.
South Korea plans to become completely self-sufficient in this regard, however, are still faced with some hurdles, as the Russian Duma (parliament) is yet to approve the transfer of technology agreement necessary for the rocket and the launch pad. The Duma is yet to clear the Technology Safeguard Agreement signed by Seoul and Moscow last October.
If the Duma should ratify the agreement, South Korea would be able to finish assembly, preliminary, as well as other systems checks only by October next year. According to officials the tracking radars, telemetry and optical systems are already in place and being field-tested.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), which organizes South Korea's space program, has completed its second tracking station on Jeju Island. The completion of the space centre would also help South Korea enter the rocket-launch business, as the launch pad is to be built according to Russian design specifics that enable launches of 33-meter rockets with a diameter of 3 meters, officials said.
After the launch of the KSLV-1, South Korea plans to start development of the KSLV-2, which will utilize indigenous technology exclusively. A successful launch of the KSLV-2 would also make South Korea only the eighth country in the world to build its own satellites and rockets and send them into space.
So far, only the United States, Russia, Japan, China, France, India and Israel belong to this exclusive club.
The first South Korean astronaut is expected to travel into space next April on board a rocket to be made jointly by Russia and South Korea. Two astronaut candidates are currently undergoing training in Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.