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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 31)

All News 07:10 July 31, 2020

Boosting space program
Korea allowed to use solid fuel for rockets

It is welcome news that the U.S. has lifted the decades-old restrictions on South Korea's use of solid fuels for its missiles and space launch vehicles. The restrictions were lifted Tuesday after the two countries revised missile guidelines to allow Seoul to develop and use solid fuel-propellants.

The move carries significant meaning as South Korea is gradually recovering its "missile sovereignty." The guidelines, which Seoul and Washington signed in 1979, have been widely seen as unequal for Korea due to the series of restrictions on rocket developments.

Under the guidelines signed under President Park Chung-hee, South Korea could only develop missiles with a maximum range of 180 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms. The guidelines have since been revised four times. The first revision was made in 2001 under the liberal Kim Dae-jung administration to expand the range to 300 kilometers.

The second amendment came in 2011 under the conservative Lee Myung-bak government to increase the range to 800 kilometers. The third one took place in 2017 under the Moon Jae-in administration to get rid of the payload limit. The fourth and latest one was made to eliminate the restrictions on solid fuel. This means it has taken over four decades to lift almost all the limits imposed on the country's launch vehicle and missile development.

The only existing limit is the maximum range of missiles. We hope the range limit will soon be lifted so that the country can develop rockets and missiles with a longer range. The full lifting is crucial to improving South Korea's missile capability to counter military threats from North Korea's long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Government officials and experts welcome the lifting of the restrictions on solid fuel, saying the revised guidelines will help improve our military's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. They also expect the move will boost the space program in the private sector.

As deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong pointed out, the revision will greatly advance South Korea's ISR capabilities by enabling the country to launch low-Earth orbit spy satellites which stay at altitudes of 500 kilometers to 2,000 kilometers. These satellites are badly needed to collect accurate information about North Korean military weapons and troops.

Kim said that our military will be able to put the entire Korean Peninsula under an around-the-clock watch, which he described as an "unblinking eye." There are many merits of solid-fuel rockets which are faster to launch and harder to detect before takeoff. Besides, solid fuel is much cheaper and more efficient than liquid fuel.

The country's space industry is also likely to take a new leap forward. Most of all, the new guidelines will open up the way for the research and development of different types of rockets as well as commercial satellites. The country is also expected to gain momentum for the launch of its first lunar landing probe planned for 2030.


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