Category Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?

East Asia’s Space Agenda

East (Eastern) Asia is an extremely important region of Asia. Almost one fourth of the world’s human population live over here. The world’s second and third largest economies reside over here, and the region comprises of the only Asian state which is the permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. This chapter and following two chapters discuss the space polices of few important states within the region. This chapter highlights on the space policies of the two Koreas and Taiwan, and subsequent chapters discuss the space policies of China and Japan.

The future of two Koreas has great influence on the security landscape of the East Asian (North-east) region. For many years, the two Korean regimes are found facing both internal and external challenges and opportunities [1]. The future of Korean peninsula mainly depends on the management of internal contradictions within the North Korea and the level of their engagement with the outside world. North Korea’s approach in deciding the future of its nuclear policies would play an important role towards deciding the geopolitical and geostrategic future of the region.

In regard to North Korea, only time would tell whether the mercurial and enigmatic North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death during Dec 2011 could lead to greater instability on the divided Korean peninsula or brighten the prospects of peace in the region. A new era of political rapprochement and economic opening could strengthen and broaden the global development partnership in the region.

The growth of science and technology in both the Koreas during last few decades could be viewed as a mixed bag of intense growth as well as stagnation and failures. The strategic requirement of both Koreas appears to have played a significant role towards deciding the trajectory for the technology development.

North Korea

North Korea is perhaps the world’s most militarised, isolated and strictly controlled communist state [2]. The state has naturally harsh terrain and experiences various natural disasters frequently. The country’s corrupt political (military) system is

A. Lele, Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?, DOI 10.1007/978-81-322-0733-7_6, 69

© Springer India 2013

unwilling to undertake any major economic reforms, and their entire focus remains to make investments in technologies of strategic significance. Albeit being viewed as an isolationist country, they have (limited) association with states like Russia and China. These states may not be called as North Korea natural allies, but they do have some influence on them. North Korea also has connections with Iran and Pakistan and over the years has looked at these states for a mutual defence technology and hardware business.

Being a state driven by military ambitions, their investments in the military hardware are significant in nature. North Korea believes that as a pariah state, they need to arm themselves ‘expansively’ to make their ‘presence’ evident regionally and bring in the element of deterrence upfront.

For last two decades, the North Korean government has promoted its nuclear and missile programmes as strong pillars of national defence and prominent symbols of scientific nationalism. This is probably because universally such military technolo­gies are being used for showcasing country’s greater scientific accomplishments. Such technologies along with space technology also become the basis of nationalis­tic pride. For North Korea investments, such programmes are representative of the national effort to build a ‘strong and prosperous country’ (kangsngdaeguk) under the political and military leadership of the country. The term kangsngdaeguk first appeared in August 1998 in reference to Kim Jong Il having provided ‘on-the – spot guidance’ in Chagang Province in February 1998 and is now established state doctrine.1

Prior to the 1980s, North Korea had a clear military advantage over South Korea, but the balance of conventional forces has turned against Pyongyang, especially after the end of the Cold War. During the famine of the mid-1990s, the North Korean leadership increasingly relied on the military to manage government affairs, and it introduced a ‘military first’ policy in 1998 to coincide with Kim Jong Il’s official rise to power. Since economic woes have made it impossible to compete with neighbours in conventional forces, Pyongyang has had a strong incentive to retain and expand its asymmetric capabilities.2 North Korea’s investment in space arena needs to be viewed at the backdrop of military influence on the policy-making practices of North Korea. As discussed elsewhere in this book, North Korean space programme is generally perceived as an offshoot of its missile programme. There is no clarity yet in regard to the future road map of North Korea’s space programme. Space programme could be useful for North Korea in some sense to expand its missile capability mainly in the medium-range missile arena. However, it could be prudent to study their space programme and missile programme as separate domains in order to have better understanding because few issues beyond missiles also demand attention.

It is important to note that the state has established the Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST) probably sometime during 1980s and is agency responsible for various activities in space from research to satellite manufacture and launching. The agency also manages the country’s rocket launch sites.

On Sept 04, 1998, the Korean Central News Agency broadcasted a report claiming the successful launch of the first North Korean artificial satellite, Kwangmyongsong-1 (Brightstar-1). This very small satellite was launched into the orbit on Aug 31,1998. The initial claims by Russian military space forces about the success of the launch were very encouraging. On Sept 06, 1998, they confirmed that the satellite was in orbit [3], but these claims were subsequently withdrawn. Various civilian and military agencies in the world (particularly in the US) track various activities in space, and they failed to observe the presence of this satellite into the space. It is generally perceived that this was the test of North Korea’s first medium-range Taepodong 1 ballistic missile.

Including the 1998 test, till date (early 2012) North Korea has done three attempts to put satellite in the space, and as per various international assessments, none of them have succeeded. However, North Korea has made certain claims of success particularly with its 2009 test which is found tenuous.

In 2000, the North Korean authorities had unilaterally decided to observe a mora­torium in missile flight testing. However, on the occasion of the US Independence Day on July 4, 2006, North Korea had undertaken multiple missile tests (probably six in number). It has been identified that one of the liftoff was the first Taepodong – 2 rocket, perhaps topped by a satellite. The rocket was launched on a minimum energy-saving trajectory close to 41° out of the launch sit heading in a direction of the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii islands. This was a typical satellite launch trajectory. However, the launch failed after around 50 s of flight. The satellite was presumably named Kwangmyongsong-2.

On April 5, 2009, North Korea proceeded with its announced satellite launch against the increasing international pressure for not to do so. International com­munity, particularly its neighbours Japan and South Korea along with the USA, was of the opinion that this so-called satellite launch was a facet and North Korea has actual plans of testing the Taepodong-2 ICBM. It was announced by the North Korean government that an Unha-2 rocket had carried the satellite. The launch was a failure, and the rocket had landed into the Pacific Ocean.

Interestingly, North Korea had claimed that the three-stage rocket had put a satellite into space, and it was circling the Earth transmitting revolutionary songs. They had reported that their scientists and engineers have succeeded in sending satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 into orbit by way of carrier rocket Unha-2.[83] But, various agencies from South Korea, Japan, Russia and the USA declared this test as a failure. The negative impact of this test was that the North Korea withdrew from six-party talks. They cited the criticism by the US President Barack Obama about this test as a reason for their withdrawal. Obama has expressed opinion that test has violated the international norms and action must be taken against North Korea for this violation.[84]

Politics has always been at the forefront of the North Korea’s space programme. Probably, the origin of the North Korea’s space programme has not been rooted as a need for social reasons but more as a response to the South Korean space programme. Another possibility is that they could have attempted to follow the Iran model to use space agenda as a means to exhibit the missile capabilities. Particularly, during the last decade after undertaking the nuclear tests, probably North Korea appears to have become more ambitious in space arena to use it as an instrument for power projection.

Understanding the importance of engaging North Korea constructively in the past, the US administration had attempted to use the space card as one of the option. During 2000, the then President Clinton had offered a satellite launch deal in exchange for terminating their ICBM programme. However, during his first term of presidency, President Bush had dropped the idea due to verification issues [4]. In the year 2009, Russia had also shown readiness to launch North Korean communication satellites and assist its space programme.[85] Particularly after the withdrawal of North Korea from the six-party talks, now it looks unlikely that the state would accept any international assistance in this regard.

The satellite imagery assessment based on the Feb 2011 images indicates that North Korea has developed a new sophisticated satellite launch side.[86] It could serve the double purpose, either for launching a satellite or it could be turned into an ICBM facility. North Korea has also announced its intentions to undertake manned space flight and Moon mission in the future. Nonetheless, the current status of their space programme indicates that they would have to overcome many hurdles to reach that level of technology sophistication. The basic question which arises at this point in time is: ‘Is North Korea’s space agenda a mere propaganda or they have interest in reaching higher heights in space realm’ ? The answer to this question is probably both.

Comparing Missions of Big Three

Table 12.1 summarises few details of the first Moon missions of Japan, China and India.

Table 12.2 Important payloads




Terrain camera, multiband

Stereo camera/

Terrain mapping camera

imager and spectral profiler

spectrometer imager

Hyperspectral imager

Laser altimeter

Laser altimeter

Lunar laser ranging instrument

X-ray spectrometer

X-ray spectrometer

High-energy X-ray spectrometer

Gamma-ray spectrometer

Gamma-ray spectrometer

Smart near-infrared spectrometer Atom reflecting analyser

Lunar magnetometer

Solar wind detectors

Radiation dose monitor Mini synthetic aperture radar Moon mineralogy mapper

Charged particle

High-energy particle

spectrometer Plasma imager Relay satellite


Table 12.2 lists important sensors which are part of the Moon missions of the three Asian countries. Here, an attempt has been made to present them in a comparative fashion (as far as possible) in regard to their functions. However, it may be noted that the design approaches and designing agencies for all these sensors are different. Also, the characteristics of some sensors vary. Hence, only a partial comparison is possible.

Space Power as Soft Power

In 2030/2040, Asia will continue to exhibit a rapid growth of development in the field of space. Japan, China and India will continue to be the leading Asian space powers. At global level, they would remain as tier two space powers. However, China would succeed in putting the human on Moon. India would overtake China and Japan in Mars missions.

China and India would have their own global/regional navigational systems op­erational. China-Japan-India would have much improvised remote sensing systems with state-of-the-art sensors giving day/night and all weather and all terrain im­ageries with resolutions in few centimetres. Their astronomical and environmental satellites would be fully operational. India would have fully developed the capability to put 6-8 ton satellites in the space and would be having fully matured cryogenic technology. Iran’s space programme (as missile programme) would grow further and would limit itself to use their satellite launches to demonstrate their missile capabilities.

Many rich Asians would visit space. Japan/Singapore/South Korea would have major stakes in global space tourism business, while India would be a major player in transponders. Indian satellite launching facilities would offer best economical options but would face competition from China. South Korea would be a beginner in this field.

China’s military space station would have lived its life, and based on this experience, they would have launched one more such station. China’s international space station would be under construction with participation from APSCO members as junior partners. Indian and Japanese satellites would face temporary blackouts because of jamming from unknown sources (la 2009-10 cyber attacks).

Non-nuclear Iran would make a slow but steady progress in space field and would have positioned its own satellites mainly in LEO. South Korea and Indonesia would have independent launch facilities. Many of the SE Asian states would remain dependent on regional and global powers for support of their space ambitions and would have numerically more satellites in space. Many Asian states would have more number of small (mini/micro/nano/piceo) satellites. Space would play a prominent role towards enhancing the soft power status of Japan, China and India.

Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality?

Space discipline has attracted the attention of many for more than six decades. I first got allured to space science and astronomy as a student of Physics. Subsequently, as a part of my profession as an aviation meteorologist over a decade and half, I was the user of space technologies. For a decade or so, while working in a policy think tank on international relations and security issues, I am trying to juxtapose the theme of strategic technologies on a security domain. This book is an attempt to contextualise these efforts to develop an explicit idea.

This book attempts to describe the current state of space programmes of various Asian states. It provides a summary of their programmes and highlights their major contributions. This work also deliberates about the strategic significance of various Asian space programmes. It is an attempt to find a connection between technology, interests, strategic relevance and power with regard to Asia’s space agenda.

I owe my gratitude to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and my previous and present Directors General Mr N S Sisodia and Dr Arvind Gupta for encouraging me to undertake research on this subject. The IDSA library, a large storehouse of information I have ever came across, made my job simpler. I would like to thank particularly Mr Pitambar Datt and Mr Mukesh Kumar Jha for all the assistance provided to me in obtaining various material and data. Over the years, I have been interacting with various policy makers and academicians both within and outside India. I am grateful to them for many useful discussions.

Lastly, my gratitude to my parents and wife Pramada and son Nipun for their support. The contents of this manuscript reflect my own personal views.

Space Investments: Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia a humid tropical region is located around the equator and also has various geographic contrasts too. Since the sixteenth century, the region has been under European and Japanese colonisation for many decades. Various countries in the region regained their independent existence approximately four to five decades ago. The region, in general, has been characterised by high economic growth and closer regional integration.

In space arena, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have made important investments. They are mainly focusing towards the communica­tions, control of resources and educational aspects of space technologies. Varying degrees of investments are being made by these and few other states within the region mainly depending on their science and technology support and economic situation. Some of them are just in the process of starting their space programmes, while some have been making investments for long. Various states in the region are fully aware that they being the late starters they should attempt to reinvent the wheel but derive benefits from the already developed technologies. They are found using various commercially available space applications and also making an attempt to obtain dedicated satellites services for themselves by launching their own satellites with the help of other spacefaring nations. States like the USA are found helping many in the region. It has already launched satellites for Vietnam and has sealed deals with Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines backed by loan guarantees. China has promised to build and launch a communications satellite for Laos. India has helped Indonesia to launch their satellite.

Various states in the region are found making both bilateral and multilateral agreements in the space arena. Indonesia has signed the APSCO[135] (Asia-Pacific

Space Cooperation Organization) convention. States like Malaysia and the Philippines also have interest in this organisation. Following sections of this chapter offer the present status of the space programmes of the few important states within the region.

Space Militarisation

For more than five decades, space technologies are being used for the pur­poses of earth observation, remote sensing, space photography, surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation, communication, broadcasting, meteorology, education, astronomy and scientific experimentation. Such usage falls in the realm of ‘civilian uses of space technologies’. All such activities have become possible because of the rapid growth in the technology. The nature of data collected in twenty-first century is far more accurate than the earlier period because of the progress made in satellite resolution and contrast-matching technologies. Also, improvements in various sensor technologies have taken place over the last few years. This more accurate data availability has widened the client base. The dual-use nature of these technologies is allowing nation-states to consume them for military purposes too.

Along with the rocket science and sensor technologies, the simultaneous progress made in information technologies and information sciences has significantly helped the satellites to improve their performance. Along with this, the process of data management and interpretation has improved largely, owing to the developments in information technology. With the advent in revolution in military affairs (RMA), the importance of technologies has increased multifold for the militaries. Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence, Reconnaissance, Surveil­lance (C4ISR) systems have become central to various armed forces and have brought in various doctrinal changes. The C4ISR strategies and policies are heavily technology dependent. Such command and control systems operate on various transformative principles essentially focusing on the use of space technology for communication services and military information networking and for purposes of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

Major technology development programmes for various nation-states would mostly have a military DNA, and the same should be the case with space programmes. However, normally it has been observed that like nuclear weapons pro­gramme, the (military) space programmes are also developed typically away from public eye. In recent years, few states are found openly discussing about the military utility of the space assets. In Asian context, various states are dependent on the major powers outside the region for technology assistance. Most of them are found abiding by various international regimes in regard to technology acquisition and transfer. They are found cooperating with the major powers in respect to the international arms control or disarmament provisions. In regard to the strategic utilisation of the space assets, various non-spacefaring states from Asia are found noncommittal. They fully understand the importance of space utilisation for influencing the warfare on earth but, because of their technological and geopolitical limitations, are not found taking any hard positions. Also, since the space security domain is still in an embryonic stage, these states are probably reluctant to take any firm positions. By doing this, they are also keeping their potential enemies guessing.

South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are found investing in satellite resources for the purposes of communication services, television broadcasting, resource management and education. Other small states in the region also have more or less similar interests. All these states are depending on spacefaring nations to help them to provide technological assistance to manufacture satellites and also to launch them. Some of them are not making any significant investments in satellite technology but probably are directly depending on outside agencies for supply of information based on various satellite-derived products. Under such circumstances, a significant reliance of these powers on space inputs for the purposes of military use looks distant. They could receive the inputs which are openly available in the market for the military purposes. Their dependence on their own assets could be minimal mainly because their systems have been manufactured by outside powers for specific civilian purposes. They could exploit the duel-use nature of this technology like others. The threat index to these regions and investments made by them into state-of-art military hardware which is mostly dependent on satellite technology indicates that particularly states like South Korea and Pakistan must be feeling the pinch of non-availably of indigenous space architecture to operate such systems to their fullest potential.

Key Asian Space Players

To understand what the future will unfold in the space arena is respect of Asia, it is important to examine whether Asian states will continue with the present pace of economic and technical growth or lose momentum. For any state, future growth in the technological area would be dictated by various nontechnical factors too. Apart from economics, the bilateral and multilateral arrangements undertaken by the state would play a greater role in the development of the space futures of the countries in the region. From this perspective, it would be important to know about the past and present of the space roadmaps of the states within the region.

To build up a broad scale understanding about the investments and achievements of the Asian states in the space arena, subsequent chapters mention the details about the space programmes of few of the states. In regard to certain states since their space programmes are still in nascent stages, there is nothing much to examine. Mostly this is because they have either hired the satellite services or have total dependence on other states to implement their space agenda. Few other Asian states which do not find mention in the above table (simply because they do not have satellites) are also attempting the develop space programmes. For example, states like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and few others that have established space agencies are in the process of developing the space roadmap for their countries.

The big three in Asia, Japan-China-India are in the business of space almost for four decades now. Their yearly space budgets range from approximately 1,000­2,000 million US$ (India has the lowest). It could even be argued that they view space as an important element of their comprehensive national power. Their investments in space are for the sake of national pride, growth of S&T and for the overall socioeconomic development. The strategic importance of these technologies particularly in the twenty-first century when the states in the region are facing both conventional and asymmetric challenges cannot be overlooked. States in the region are found investing or have plans to invest in space technology for both socioeconomical and geostrategic requirements.

Present Generation Systems

The present generation satellite navigational systems are more direct. The satellite broadcasts a signal with exact time of transmission and the position of the satellite. ‘The receiver compares the time of broadcast encoded in the transmission with the time of reception measured by an internal clock, thereby measuring the time-of – flight to the satellite. Several such measurements can be made at the same time to different satellites, allowing a continual fix to be generated in real time’ .[200] The system overcomes various technical limitations like cases of fast-moving receivers. Errors are reduced by the various filtering techniques.

Globally, the best known satellite navigational system is the GPS (global positioning system). This US system has almost become synonymous with satellite navigation. Built under the US NAVSTAR programme in 1973, the GPS satellite constellation began with the launch of its first four satellites in 1978. It has brought about significant changes in military tactics and has also created new applications for the civilian use with a significant economic dimension. The GPS can be viewed as an application that covers almost every discipline of modern technology. It is said that GPS could be the next utility, like electricity, running water and the telephone, and could become a part of everyone’s daily life. The applications of this new high-tech capability are limited only by our imagination. GPS-based products will likely fuel the next economic expansion of the free world [1]. In 1983, the then US president, Roland Reagan offered the GPS civil services to the world, free of direct charges in the aftermath of the loss of the KAL 007.[201]

The two other systems apart from the GPS are the two major constellations, namely, the Russian GLONASS and the European Union’s (EU) GALILEO. The GLONASS went on to the drawing board in the mid-1970s while the launching of satellites began in the 1980s. There were 12 functional satellites when the USSR disintegrated in 1991. This constellation has witnessed various ups and downs mainly because of the Russian financial constraints. However, with improvement in its economic condition post 2000, Russia’s investments in its space programme in general and GLONASS in particular started increasing. Presently, the third – generation GLONASS-K programme is underway and is nearing global coverage. Russia currently has 22 fully operational GLONASS satellites in orbit. The com­plete GLONASS grouping must have 24 operational and 2-3 reserve satellites for it to have global coverage.[202]

GALILEO is the global navigational satellite system being developed by the EU and European Space Agency (ESA). This twenty-first century system expected to the best in world is hampered by financial problems and has missed various deadlines till date. This system is mainly meant for civilian purposes and was initiated in 2003. On Oct 21, 2011 the first two European Galileo satellites intended to form part of the future 30-satellite navigation constellation were launched to validate the system and the next pair would be launched during Oct 2012.[203] [204] Galileo may be able to offer an initial set of services by 2014; the system is unlikely to be fully operational before 2016 to 2019. Given its budget, Galileo is expected to provide the 4 IOV (in-orbit validation) and 14 FOC (full operational capability) satellites by 2014, which is 60% of its capacity.11

The United Nations General Assembly in 2006 set up an International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems as an informal body to promote cooperation on the matters of mutual interest related to civilian satellite-based positioning, navigation, timing and value-added services. The committee would also address the issues related to the compatibility and interoperability of global navigation satellite systems. One of the main purposes of this forum is to promote the use of this system to support sustainable development, particularly in developing countries.[205] Asian states are found taking keen interest in this programme, and the second meeting of the ICG Global Navigation Committee was held at Bangaluru, India, in 2007.

Power Dynamics

Space technology is critical for progress, and space systems are strategic assets for a state. For more than half a century, this technology has been effectively used for socioeconomic development by its possessors. It still remains more of an exclusivist technology, and due to its dual-use nature, the possessor of this technology views it as a symbol of national power. The concept of power could have different connotations for different states depending on the circumstances. Quantification of national power and finding its correlation in regard to success achieved by that particular state in space arena could be a laborious but worthwhile exercise.[324]

For the purpose of macro analysis, four commonly accepted instruments of national power: political, economic, informational and military,[325] could be used. The political instrument of national power allows the execution of a nation’s foreign policy through diplomatic means. The economic instrument is the leveraging of a nation’s wealth to influence the behaviour of others. The informational tool provides the ability to disseminate (or withhold) information collected with the help of space assets. The military instrument essentially shows the capability of a state to influence the outcome of any war.

For states like Japan-China-India, these four instruments of national power have significance with varying shades of importance. In context of India, the economic instrument was not of major significance till recently, because its space industry is still in its formative years. However, current trends indicate that India is keen to develop the commercial aspects of its space programme and has started working towards it. Japan is found making investments both at commercial level as well as

at state level. Japan is in a position to influence the fate of major global projects like the international space station (ISS) because of their scientific and financial commitments to this project.[326] China is found making significant commercial investments. Presently, there are found committing financial resources more to make friends than to earn profits. They expect the business to grow in long term.

For all these years, it was becoming difficult for India to attract customers because of the restrictions imposed on them as a response to its nuclear policies. Almost for two to three decades, India was a pariah state for any global engagement in the high-technology arena. Now, the successful culmination of the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005 and participation of the states like the USA and Russia in India’s Moon mission clearly demonstrate the emergence of a strong international collaboration and cooperative component. Various subsidiaries of ISRO were put under export control ‘Entity List’ by the USA for long. Post-2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, in an attempt to expand high-technology trade and strategic cooperation with India, the USA has removed all restrictions on ISRO by Jan 2011. All this would help India to further develop the commercial aspects of its space programme.

The satellite services of these three states play an important role towards com­munications, broadcasting, tele-education and tele-medicine services and weather forecasting services. They are sharing this information with other states as well depending on their individual arrangements. This real-time information accessibility demonstrates the potency of informational superiority these states possess. The innate dual-use nature of space technology and particularly of the availability of remote sensing satellites with sub-metre resolution capability, clearly demonstrates their relevance for the militaries of these states. China has already conducted a successful ASAT test and is reported to have developed satellite jamming technologies. This directly portrays their military space potential. Theoretically, India is in a position to develop ASAT technology if it chooses to do so.

These three states have already published their vision documents giving their plans for coming few decades.[327] These plans demonstrate that for them, the relevance of space has grown much beyond a mere tool for socioeconomic development. Economics and security have emerged as other important pillars for their future space architecture. They view space technology as a symbol of national power.

Amongst these three states, China appears to be more focused towards identify­ing their space programme as a tool for raising nationalism. It has already succeeded in sending the human to the space and has also successfully demonstrated their spacewalk capability. They are also developing an independent space station and

have successfully tested space-docking technology. India has articulated its vision for human space flight programme but is expected to take many more years to fulfil this dream.

There is a strong possibility that the first human to put its foot on the Moon in the twenty-first century could be the Chinese.[328] If China succeeds in doing this before the USA, then it could be a significant act of power expression. Apart from Japan- China-India, the states in the region with interest in space are still in the process of evolution in space arena and hence are unlikely to reach the level of placing their space accomplishments as a symbol of national power in the coming two to three decades. This is not to argue that their space achievements would not demonstrate some correlation with any of the above-stated commonly accepted instruments of national power. But, in overall analysis, they are likely to remain as tier three or tier four space powers.[329]

South Korea

South Korea is a key US alley in East Asia. This fastest growing country is the fourth largest economy of Asia. South Korea and North Korea could be regarded as states separated at birth. Technically, South Korea is at war with North Korea for the last many years. Since its inception in 1948, North Korea has mostly be a part of the list of countries unfriendly with the USA and its allies. Over the years, North Korea has been called ‘names’ like the State Sponsor of Terrorism, Rogue State, part of Axis of Evil and even at times Outpost of Tyranny. Evaluation of South Korea’s progress or retreat in any field is mostly done by factoring the North Korean angle.

Like any other developing state, South Korea is keen to invest in space tech­nologies for its socioeconomic benefits. At the same time, appreciating the typical security circumstances they are embroiled in and the nature of investments they are doing in military hardware, it becomes obvious that space is and would be an important element of their military preparedness particularly since they are a part of a US military alliance.[87] The US militaries’ dependence on space technologies is well-known. Presently, ‘South Korea has been caught between political and historical legacies and emerging complex threats, while searching for a new strategic paradigm and operational concepts that would allow greater flexibility and adaptability under conditions of strategic uncertainty. The changing security dynamics on the Korean Peninsula has arguably decreased the effectiveness of South Korea’s traditional deterrence and defence strategies. In this context, their military has attempted to adapt selected US RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) concepts as a part of broader military modernization to counter the widening spectrum of threats, mitigate technological and interoperability gaps with US forces, and eventually attain self-reliant defence posture’ [5]. Various Western, South Korean and Japanese spy agencies are using human and technical intelligence as a means to learn more about internal situation and military preparedness of this hermetic country. Today, South Korea suffers from a typical security dilemma, and this makes them to spend approximately 2.5-3 % of their GPD for the defence.

Any assessment of the South Korean investments in the space technologies needs to be carried out at the backdrop of regional geopolitical realities. Apart from the civilian and commercial benefits of space technologies, its relevance for satisfying South Korean strategic requirements needs to be appreciated. The RMA philosophy of South Korea revolves around making significant investments in the area of command, control and surveillance systems (C4ISR). Importance of space technologies (either developed indigenously or otherwise) to carry this agenda further is obvious.

In mid-September 2005, the Republic of Korea (ROK) Ministry of National Defence announced a Defence Reform Plan designed to modernise ROK military equipment and achieve a higher level of professional military personnel. The most crucial aspect of the plan was the massive investment in battle management assets focusing on C4ISR, all of which are essential for network-centric warfare. This Defence Reform 2020 plan has mandated the acquisition of theatre operational command facilities, communication networks and military communication satellites [6].

South Korea started late in the space arena in comparison with other important space actors in the region. They started with their various activities in space arena in late 1980s. It’s interesting to note that they started ‘thinking big’ in the initial stages of development of their space programme only and announced its ambitions to work in astronautics and other space fields. During Aug 1989, the state established Satellite Technology Research Centre (SaTReC). The centre started with their associate with the Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in area of micro-satellites. Within 3 months after the creation of centre, South Korea established its national space agency called Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) [7]. The first South Korean satellite Kitsat-1 was launched on Aug 10, 1992, onboard an Ariane launcher, and satellite manufacture was facilitated by the Surrey systems.

South Korea’s first indigenously produced satellite, KOMPSAT-1, was launched in 1999 aboard a Russian-produced rocket. Since then, the KARI has launched several advanced communications, imaging and weather satellites [8]. The KARI has also been involved in the development its own rockets too. Apart from successful launching of various satellites in space (with outside support), the other notable achievement by South Korea has been to launch its first astronaut into space with Russian assistance in 2008. The biggest limitation of the South Korean space programme so far has been its inability to successfully develop its own satellite launch capability.

By the 1990s, South Korea had developed an independent capability to manu­facture solid propellant rocket motors of up to 1-ton mass. In 1990, KARI had built the first indigenous sounding rockets, flown as the KSR-I and KSR-II. In December 1997, KARI was planning the development of liquid oxygen/kerosene rocket motor for an orbital launcher, but this idea was discarded because by then the South Korean government had proposed to try to be amongst the top ten spacefaring nations by 2015 and they wanted to leapfrog the technology curve. They decided to follow the route of international collaboration for rapid progress. Hence, they engaged with Russian companies to assist in building a new space launch centre together with a large space launch modular booster. This multibillion dollar programme got underway in 2004.8

The first two attempts by South Korea with its indigenous launching system to launch satellites have failed. South Korea had launched its first space rocket during Aug 2009, but the satellite it was carrying failed to enter into its proper orbit.

South Korea’s two-stage Naro rocket had Russian liquid-fuelled first-stage while the second stage, burning a solid fuel, was produced by South Korean engineers. The rocket could place the satellite into orbit but not followed its intended course. The satellite had reached an altitude of 360 km, rather than separating at the intended 302 km. South Korean agencies had described this as a partial success/half success.[88] The second attempt during Jun 2010 was a major failure when the rocket exploded 137 s after the takeoff.[89] These two successive launch failures have put South Korea satellite programme under pressure, and they are yet to realise the dream of becoming spacefaring nation.

Even though South Korea is not able to successfully develop a launch system, still their success with satellite design and manufacture is noteworthy. Till now, they have launched 12 different satellites. From strategic context, their investments in KoreaSat are significant. This series of satellites are basically for commercial purposes (communication and broadcasting). Amongst the four satellites launches so far, KoreaSat-5 (Aug 2006) has an integrated communication system for military purposes [9]. They also have a KOMPSAT/Arirang series satellite for Earth observation purposes. All these satellites are mainly devised for civilian uses; however, their defence utility could not be ruled out. Their requirements for spy satellites or dedicated military observation satellites are obviously being met by the systems available under the US command.

Limited achievements in space arena have not deterred the South Korea from continuing ‘thinking big’. As per their Ministry of Science and Technology, they are proposing to develop a large-sized rocket capable of carrying 300 ton of freight into space by 2017. They also have plans to develop a space shuttle launching system by 2020. The state is keen to undertake missions in the deep space arena and has plans to send an unmanned probe to the Moon’s orbit in 2020 and land a probe on the Moon’s surface in 2025.11

Like any other developing state, South Korea’s space agenda also suffers from the budgetary limitations. They understand that presently there is disconnect between their ambitions and achievements. Exact reasons for their inability to successfully develop launch vehicles are difficult to identify. From the technological perspective in the business of rocket science, two consecutive failures are not desirable but definitely tolerable. For many years, the USA is having concerns about South Korea’s ballistic missile intentions. Probably, that is the reason they could be (secretly) unhappy to the South Korean inroads into rocket technology. This also could have had certain impact on the progress of South Korea in developing launcher technologies.

After making years of investments in space arena, now it is unlikely for South Korea to discard its space programme just because of few failures. They

understand that space is an integral element of a modern international power and has connotations both for national pride as well as international standing. They are also keen to exploit the economic and strategic benefits of this technology. The state is expected to quickly learn for its failures and make rapid progress in near future.