By Dr. Hwang Chin-young
Director of Policy and International Relations Division
Korea Aerospace Research Institute
The aerospace industry is recognized as a high technology-oriented, high value-added and also strategically important industry. Especially in the 21st century, as air and space have been used more and more in various ways, many countries have become interested in the aerospace industry.
Korea joined the aircraft industry in late 1970s by producing 500MD helicopters under the license agreement with McDonnel Douglas of the United States. The country joined the space industry after 10 years of developing project of the KITSAT-1 satellite. The satellite was invented by KAIST SaTRec in cooperation with Surrey University in the U.K.
Despite the short history in the aerospace industry, aerospace technologies in Korea have improved rapidly thanks to the proficient human resources and their efforts.
In the aircraft sector, defense orders have played a pivotal role to maintain the industry. Since late 1970s, Korea produced 500MD helicopters, F-5 E/F and F-16K fighter and UH-60 helicopters under the license agreement,
And Korea successfully developed the KT-1 piston-propeller type basic trainer independently and recently developed the advanced jet trainer T-50 jointly with Lockheed Martin (USA). The Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI) seems ready for take-off, expecting to export a few dozen of the new generation jet trainers, T-50.
The Korean Helicopter Program (KHP) started in 2006. It is under way in order to make Korea one of the top seven countries in helicopter technology and to build the independent abilities for the development of helicopters until 2012.
As for the Unmanned Vehicle Program, KARI succeeded the test flight of Smart UAV 40 percent Scale Down Model in November 2007, making Korea one of the two countries, along with the U.S., to have Tilt-rotor technology in the world.
KAI and Korean Air also participated in the commercial business areas through large commercial transport programs, such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350.
Korean aircraft firms have caught up with the industry by developing (1) system assembly under the license agreement with foreign advanced companies, followed by (2) airframe parts manufacturing and subassembly, (3) sub-assembly development, and finally (4) system development by indigenous capabilities.
The Korean aircraft industry has been growing rapidly and the production of Korean aircraft is around $1.5 billion and exports have increased to about $300 million in 2007. They are expected to grow further in 2008.
The Government has a vision to enter the world’s top 10 in this area in a few decades by achieving world market share of 5 percent, up from 0.5 percent at the moment. Currently the Korean Government is preparing the new aircraft industry development plan, which will be announced in 2008. Many ambitious aircraft development plans after KHP will be announced.
In the space sector, one of the main driving forces to develop related technologies is the government itself. It is right in a way that space activities require high development cost. They also need scientific expertise and high levels of technology. The government’s strong will can lead to the development of these strategically important technologies.
Actually, there has been a continuous series of development projects spearheaded by the government since 1989. The first project was the scientific micro satellite KITSAT-1 (Uribyul-1). Close to that time, the first sounding rocket program KSR-1 was started.
Since then, in the scientific satellite area, 3 KITSAT projects and one Science and Technology Satellite (STSAT) were developed. In the Earth observation satellite area, two Korea Multi Purpose Satellites (KOMPSAT) were developed. In the space rocket area, three KSR projects were successfully carried out.
The space budget in 2008 is about $300 million, reflecting the request for the development of satellites such as the KOMPSAT series, STSAT and COMS, the launch vehicle program, space center construction and basic space technology research programs.
Currently under the Space Development Promotion Basic Plan, several development projects are under way. In the satellite sector, KARI is working on the development of the succeeding KOMPSAT series, including KOMPSAT-3 and -5, aiming to secure self-sustaining high-resolution observation satellite technology.
The Communication, Ocean, and Meteorological Satellite (COMS) programs by KARI seek to operate meteorological observation and ocean monitoring, and space test of experimentally developed communication payloads, in geostationary orbit. The target launch of COMS is scheduled for mid-2009.
KARI is developing the first Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV-1) in cooperation with Russia and plans to launch it around the end of this year. In addition, Korea¡¯s first flight to the International Space Station (ISS) by an astronaut using a Soyuz spacecraft will be one of the biggest events this year.
Space application parts, such as satellite broadcasting and communications and remote sensing service, are recognized as the most commercialized. Annual sales turnover of private enterprises in the area of satellite broadcasting and communications is more than 60 percent of the total Korean space sector.
In a relatively short time, Korea has built up its technological capabilities in the space sector. The technology development strategy can be summarized as follows.
In the first stage, Korea made contracts with foreign companies to develop space systems such as satellites. The foreign company leads the development, and Korean researchers worked together and tried to learn how to build the system.
In the next stage, Korea develops the system with the support of a foreign partner. Finally, Korea designs, develops and integrates the space systems independently.
It clearly shows the path KARI has built in its technological capabilities in the KOMPSAT series. During this process, many Korean companies have participated and built up their technological capabilities.
For example, the Korean Aerospace Industry Ltd. (KAI) integrated KOMPSAT-1 and developed the Electrical Power subsystem. Korean Air developed the Structure & Mechanical subsystem. Doowon Heavy Industry and Hanwha were also involved in the Altitude & Orbit Control Subsystem and Propulsion Subsystem development.
Tech-oriented venture company, SaTRec-i, spun off from KAIST SaTRec, developed microsatellites and exported them to Malaysia.
In 2006, the total turnover of the Korean space sector was around $1.1 billion. Among them, space-related manufacturing is around $430 million and $690 million is for space application.
Most of the space application is satellite communication and broadcasting business. The total personnel of space sector is 2,372 -- 1,381 (58 percent) in the industry, 730 (31 percent) in research institutes, 261 (11 percent) in universities.
The number of personnel was increased 7 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year.
In conclusion, despite its short history, the Korean aerospace industry is growing quickly. It now expects an increase in the world aerospace market share. The Korean Government declared its ambitious policy targets, which include being in the world’s top 10. However, it is not an easy task, as the global aerospace market is highly competitive and the industry is undergoing global restructuring.
Strong government support for the continuous technological development, as well as cooperation between the government, industries, government-funded research institutes and universities, is essential for the competitiveness of the aerospace industry.
The aerospace industry can prove a nation’s technological capability as well as power. Even though Korea is a latecomer in this particular industry, it has the potential to become one of the leading aerospace countries in the world.