The sad state of South Korea’s space sector

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The new colonial movement: It appears that South Korea’s space industry is faltering, according to unnamed sources in that industry, and must be revitalized.

Many critics also point to the near absence of Korean conglomerates in the domestic aerospace scene as a major setback for the nation. “Since space businesses do not generate short-term revenues, most Korean conglomerates are reluctant to jump into the sector,” said an official from the aerospace sector. “Other nations, including the U.S. and Russia, on the other hand, have been running space programs for decades and have a large pool of seasoned engineers and talents, which is why the Korean aerospace industry is far behind in the race for outer space,” he said.

Samsung Group, the largest conglomerate here, previously ran aerospace business arm Samsung Techwin, now renamed Hanhwa Techwin after it was acquired by Hanhwa Group in 2014. Techwin was established in 1977 to develop flight engines. Samsung Group sold part of Techwin’s flight engines business to Korea Aerospace Industries in 1999 and pulled completely out of the aerospace sector in 2014.

What makes this story different from my previous two posts is that its focus is not building a government program (and the bureaucracy to go with it) but to find way to develop a robust private aerospace industry, competing for market share in the world market. With that approach, South Korea might actually launch something in the coming years.

One comment

  • Edward

    Three or four years ago, I saw a panel discussion on space commerce. At least one person on the panel compared space commerce with internet commerce. Internet companies are not just those that make the routers and lay the wires, but the companies that use the internet to do business.

    Space commerce is more than building the launch vehicles and the spacecraft, it includes those companies that use the satellites for their business incomes. Intelsat, SES, and Inmarsat (to name only a very few communication companies) did not build their satellites, but they use satellites to generate their incomes.

    Today, there are companies doing research on the ISS. They are using that research to discover what is possible so that they can figure out how to do here on Earth what now seems impossible. Many of these companies use Nano Racks, a company that does much of the work to get the experiments onto the ISS. Nano Racks is a space company, even though it did not build the ISS or the rockets and spacecraft that get the experiments to and from the ISS.

    South Korea may be suffering from a lack of imagination. Their space companies do not *need* South Korean rocket launchers, they need a business plan that takes advantage of hardware others have already put into space. It would be nice if they built rockets and satellites, but the real money is in the other business opportunities, such as consumer services (e.g. telecommunications) or goods (e.g. remote sensing data or photographs). These are near-term products that can help fund future endeavors, such as space stations, space mining, or Moon villages (or revenue time on these) — all using hardware built by other countries.

    Using foreign products for business purposes is not a new concept, but it sometimes seems to be a new one in the space community. If South Korea plays its cards right, its businesses could beat Europe to the Moon.

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