South Korea targets Moon and Mars landings after launching unified space agency

Meanwhile, North Korea's latest rocket fails

South Korea launched its first unified space agency on Monday, when the Korea AeroSpace Administration (KASA) took flight in the city of Sacheon.

Since 1989, Korean space matters have been handled by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). But its focus has been narrow. Astronomical research and cooperation with international agencies has been the domain of Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASSI) and various other ministries have had a degree of aerospace responsibility.

The nation's Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) reasoned that "the current system with dispersed aerospace functions across ministries has limitations for growth" – particularly as space policy has expanded "to include space exploration, industry, security, and international cooperation."

Creating KASA and unifying the country's space programs was a campaign pledge by Yoon Suk Yeol, who became president in May 2022.

A bill to create the agency by shifting KARI and KASSI to KARA's jurisdiction passed the National Assembly last year.

It's now been enacted and KASA has taken off with divisions for launch vehicles, space science/exploration, satellite, advanced aviation, aerospace policy, aerospace business, and aerospace international cooperation.

"The most important role of the space agency will be supporting the private sector to lead space development," explained KASA chief Yoon Young-bin, according to local media.

First up on the agenda are joint projects with leading space research institutions like NASA and JAXA. The ministry also stated it plans to "explore economic cooperation projects with emerging countries, particularly those with recent MOU signings in the aerospace field, such as the UAE."

KASA has been tasked with completing a lunar landing in 2032 and Mars exploration in 2043.

South Korean space tech development was artificially slowed thanks to a Cold War-era agreement with the US that prohibited it from developing a space program until 2020.

Since that time, the nation has quickly enjoyed several successes – such as the Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, Danuri, which launched in August 2022 and sent back its first images in February 2023.

In September 2023, Danuri sent back images of India's Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission.

South Korea also uses its space capabilities to keep tabs on North Korea. In December, it launched its first military reconnaissance satellite and followed it up two days later with a private commercial satellite that used its own solid-propellant launch vehicle. ®

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