South Korea targets Mars mission with new center

By AFP   May 30, 2024 | 07:55 pm PT
South Korea aims to make a Mars landing by 2045, President Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday, outlining plans to spend about $70 billion over the coming decades on space exploration.

The newly created Korea Aerospace Administration (KASA) will lead the drive to make the land of K-pop a new space powerhouse, following the United States, Russia and China.

"I have always believed that there is an infinite dream and future in outer space," Yoon said on Thursday.

"KASA will strive to land a homegrown probe on the moon by 2032 and plant the Taegeukgi (South Korean flag) on Mars by 2045," he said.

South Korea sent up its first lunar orbiter, Danuri, in 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon rocket.

It also successfully launched its homegrown Nuri rocket and placed working satellites into orbit last year after two failed attempts.

Seoul is now gearing up for its fourth launch of the Nuri rocket in the second half of 2025.

Modeled after the United States NASA, KASA says it will act as an "aerospace control tower", overseeing aerospace policy, satellite development and space missions, including moon exploration.

Key projects will include expanding South Korea's participation in Artemis 3, an American-led mission which aims to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2026.

The research and development program at the agency will be led by John Lee, who spent 30 years with NASA and was last a senior adviser at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Yoon vowed to "expand the space development budget by 1.5 trillion won (US$1.1 billion) by 2027" -- which would be double the current space budget.

Sacheon city, located in the far south and home to the agency's headquarters, will become the "Toulouse of Asia", said Yoon, referring to the southwestern French city, seen as a European space capital, and where Airbus has its headquarters.

KASA is planning a moon landing in 2032, which is a project with Hanwha Aerospace, South Korea's largest defense and aerospace company.

"Our aim is also to support the private sector in space missions as extensively as we can," Roh Kyung-won, deputy administrator of KASA, told AFP.

One of their initial projects will involve collaborating with Perigee Aerospace, a South Korean space startup, to test a space launch vehicle from Jeju Island as early as next month.

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