I rose to 7th place in the world, but the gap with 6th place is too big.
In the future, original technology is important to grow the industry
Aerospace Administration, space policy and research and development management
Aeronautical Research and Astronomy Research Institute play a role in securing strategic technology
The industry needs to be grown by leaving it to the industry in charge of the project.
All-out development effort to achieve moon landing in 2032
If you fall behind in the space economy era, you will lose security, etc.
Need to dominate technological areas that have not been possible before
The world is engaged in fierce competition for space. Many countries, including the United States, India, and Japan, are heading to the moon. Private companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Rocket Lab in the U.S. are upgrading launch vehicles.
Our country succeeded in sending a practical satellite made with our own technology into space on our own launch vehicle, Nuri. Korea’s first lunar probe, Danuri, is in lunar orbit and is performing its mission well. It is the world’s 7th largest space power. But we cannot be complacent. What should I add?
In an interview held at the Segye Ilbo headquarters in Yongsan-gu, Seoul on the 1st, Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, who led the success of Nuri and Danuri, the first generation of space developers, made a cold diagnosis that although there have been many achievements so far, the structure of Korea’s space industry is weak. I took it down. He emphasized that while the government has been leading the way by chasing advanced countries, it is now necessary to strengthen industrial companies and become competitive through unique technologies. He expressed expectations that the Korea Aerospace Administration, which is scheduled to be launched in May, will be a turning point. Director Lee said, “The Korea Aerospace Exploration Administration should come up with ideas, the Aerospace Research Institute should develop technologies that industries find difficult and prepare for the future, and hand over as many of the existing technologies of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute to the industry as possible.” “I think good results will come out along with this,” he said.
We heard from Director Lee about the present and future of Korea’s space development. The following is a Q&A with Director Lee.
-A new space agency will be established. What does it mean for our country’s aerospace sector?
“Korea has been developing space for the past 30 years. So far, we have pursued it diligently, focusing on science and technology. However, there was no department in charge of space development. Things will change when the Aerospace Administration is established. If the previous one was stage 1, the next one can be called stage 2 or second generation. “I think it will be a structure where we can compete with the world in earnest by securing technological competitiveness with the Aerospace Administration as the focal point.”
―What is the most important thing that the Aerospace Administration must do?
“The Aerospace Administration must work to create a space development ecosystem that can continuously develop the space industry. Behind the private companies leading the New Space era, there were government control towers of each country, such as the Aerospace Administration. So far, the focus has been on science and technology, but parts have often been imported from overseas. “Now that space will become an infrastructure for national defense, diplomacy, security, and industry, we need to create a competitive ecosystem.”
―The Aerospace Research Institute will become an organization under the Aerospace Administration. How do you think relationships should be established?
“It won’t be the same as before. The Aerospace Administration will oversee space policy and research and development (R&D), and the Aerospace Exploration Research Institute and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute will likely play a role in securing non-independent or unsecured technologies or national strategic technologies. It is necessary for the Korean Air Research Institute to take the initiative in challenging and leading research and development. Relationships with industries will also change. “General aerospace projects should be managed by industry as much as possible and supported so that the industry can stand on its feet.”
―Assessment of Korea’s space technology level. What is lacking?
“They say Korea’s space ranking is 7th in the world. Korea is the only country that started as a latecomer in the late 1980s and rose to the top group. It’s encouraging. It’s fortunate that we made it to the top group, but the gap with 6th place is too big. Much effort must be made to reduce the gap. The space industry is weak and less competitive than overseas. In fact, rankings are not meaningful, but it is important to strengthen the industry to be unique and competitive globally.”
-Can SpaceX be launched in Korea?
“There were two factors behind SpaceX’s success. One is technological innovation. It was not a common innovation, but a disruptive innovation, an innovation that specialized organizations had not done for decades. Another is strong support from governments such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). I think we also have ample potential in the technological innovation sector. Institutional overhaul is needed so that companies can take on the challenge of innovation. The private sector must also make efforts to actively invest and innovate technology, and establish systematic business models and challenging goals to enter the global market. Then, I think a world-class company could emerge, even if not immediately.”
-We are embarking on a mission to land on the moon in 2032. How are you preparing?
“The lunar lander project is a project with a 10-year development period from 2024 to 2033 and a total project cost of 530.3 billion won. Moon landings are currently limited to Nuri, so development of a next-generation launch vehicle began last year. A separate lunar lander development project is also underway. The plan is to put it into lunar orbit in 2030 to verify its performance, verify soft landing performance in 2031, and send the final lander in 2032. Since there is no air on the moon, parachutes are useless and a soft landing must be made through a powered descent stage. Because it is a difficult technology, countries that previously sent landers to the moon also experienced failure. “This is what we must do now.”
―As a huge amount of budget is spent on space technology development, there are criticisms that it is a waste of budget. Why should we go to space and the moon?
“There are about 90 countries around the world developing space. Is it true that Korea doesn’t do this? Space development is a necessity, not an option. We need to think about how to do it well. In the past, space was a symbol of enhancing national prestige, but now everything that is needed nationally, including diplomacy, security, industry, and economy, is directed to space. “Countries that lag behind in the space economy era will experience resource depletion, loss of economic power and security, and loss of opportunities to expand their livelihoods.”
―You often mentioned that we need to prepare for the future. What should I do?
“Looking back on my work as the first engineer in the space field, I feel proud, but I also think about what I have accomplished so far. When I thought about the reason, the only thing I had done so far was to chase after developed countries. As technology develops rapidly, it is difficult to get ahead using current methods. In sports, there is a chance for a comeback when a player retires, but in the space field, it is difficult to overtake even advanced countries because they are running endlessly. Industrially, even if you start late in semiconductors and automobiles, you can compete if you make them better and cheaper than your competitors, but this is not the case in the space industry. To overcome this, you must prepare in advance what others do not. We must preemptively occupy technological areas that have not been explored until now. A method of bringing electricity produced by solar energy in space to the ground, a service that refuels and repairs satellites in orbit so that they can be used continuously, like car maintenance, space debris collection, and when traveling to Mars or deep space for several months. The nuclear propulsion engines required are all futuristic. Even in developed countries, a lot of research is being done, but many technologies have not been put into practical use. “We need to think about these things and invest in them.”
-Recently, anti-aircraft research was lifted from public institutions. What changes?
“It is expected that autonomy will be expanded compared to before. If it is a public institution, labor costs are limited and manpower is also controlled. To prepare for the future, organizations must have the autonomy to do things on their own. “The release from public institutions is interpreted as providing some flexibility.”
―There was a lot of controversy this year as the R&D budget was cut. Were there any difficulties?
“There was a feeling of regret. If the R&D budget had been reduced but allowed to operate autonomously, there would have been no complaints. For example, if there are research tasks 1, 2, and 3, it would be nice if each institution could decide to reduce all 1 to 3, or reduce or select only projects 2 and 3, but this is not possible. The current R&D system has not changed in 30 years. When the budget for each project is submitted, the project managers fight among themselves. In many cases, decisions are made based on comparison with the previous year’s budget rather than priorities. All you need to do is give institutions goals and autonomy to prevent them from being used carelessly, and if they fail to do so, you can hold them accountable. Even if we use the same budget, we must ensure that it is used efficiently.”
―The term of office as director of the Korean Air Research Institute ends in March. What are your plans afterward?
“We are making preparations to ensure that the Aerospace Research Institute can be well established as an organization under the Aerospace Administration until the end of its term. After this, I am close to retirement, so I have no plans. However, if there is something helpful to the country or the aerospace community based on my experience and knowledge so far, I will do it.”
―What would you like to say to junior aerospace researchers and children who want to become space scientists?
“Now is the era where we can dream that we will surpass SpaceX and what humanity will become. I hope you have a big and ambitious dream. In particular, the space field is an endless field that lasts a lifetime. “I hope you continue to do it with passion.”
Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Aerospace Research Institute…
●Born in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do in 1960 ●Bachelor’s/Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Seoul National University ●Ph.D. at University of Polsavatiers, France ●Head of Aeronautical Research Institute’s Multipurpose Satellite System Group ●Head of Arirang Satellite No.3 Project ●Head of Multipurpose Practical Satellite No.5 Project ●Head of Satellite Research Division ● 〃Director of Aerospace Systems Research Institute ●〃Director of Geostationary Orbit Complex Satellite Business Division ●〃Vice Director ●〃Director of Lunar Exploration Business Division ●〃Director (2021∼)
Interview = Industry Director Kim Ki-hwan, summary = Reporter Lee Jin-kyung
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