With the scientific community’s ‘long-cherished wish’ of establishing a space agency, “what remains to be done is securing a Korean talent pool”

Space Agency's budget of 7,000 billion won, will the scientific community's long-awaited wish come true?
As the problem of manpower shortage becomes visible, the future of Korea's space industry becomes more visible.
Korea has finally reached the starting point, “We must not be impatient” 

The establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (hereinafter referred to as the Space Agency), which has been the biggest dream of the science and technology community, is becoming a reality, but homework is still scattered. First of all, it is unclear whether the Space Agency under the Ministry of Science and ICT will be able to plan and coordinate the policies of higher ministries such as the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy under Korea’s Government Organization Act. Considering the limited human resources pool in Korea, securing the 200 research personnel and 100 administrative personnel required to open the Space Agency is expected to be a major challenge.

The establishment of the Space Agency is visible, but

According to the science and technology community on the 8th, the budget for establishing the Space Agency under the Ministry of Science and ICT was set at 7,000 billion to 7,200 billion won this year. If the Space Agency is established as scheduled in the first half of this year, it will transfer and oversee all aerospace-related tasks divided into the Ministry of Science and ICT, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the National Research Foundation of Korea, and the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI). It will also coordinate and promote civil-military R&D (research and development) projects and aviation sector work owned by the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

In order for the Space Agency to establish itself as a national space control tower in the future, granting it the authority to plan, coordinate, and manage government-wide policies appears to be the first task that must be accomplished. In particular, as there has been an invisible power struggle with the Ministry of Defense, which had a high demand for military rocket and satellite launches, it is necessary to prepare measures to prevent obstacles to the Space Agency’s ability to carry out some R&D projects in the defense field in the future. Accordingly, the government plans to solve the limitations of the Space Agency’s governance (government organization system) by upgrading the chairman of the National Space Committee from the Prime Minister to the President.

However, even if this is resolved, the biggest hurdle remains: securing human resources. There are many voices among experts that it will not be easy to recruit personnel from national defense and defense space companies. This is because the incentive to recruit talented people was reduced as the clause ‘Efforts should be made to improve settlement conditions such as education, medical care, and transportation systems’ was omitted during the discussion of the Space Agency Special Act Agenda Coordination Committee. The Space Agency is listed as Sacheon, Gyeongsangnam-do in the Yoon Seok-yeol government’s national agenda. When the Space Agency cooperates with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) or ESA (European Space Agency), the problem of ‘level’ mismatch is also a problem that must be solved. NASA is an independent agency that can implement policies starting from technology development, but the Space Agency is clearly stated to be under the Minister of Science and ICT, so the level does not match. In addition, the first head of the Space Agency cannot recruit foreigners or dual nationals as agreed upon by the ruling and opposition parties, so it appears that he will have to be selected from the limited domestic human resources pool. There are a lot of tasks pending before the office opens.

Regions busy preparing for the Space Agency

Once the foundation for the opening of the Space Agency has been laid, local governments first began preparing full-scale support to help the Space Agency’s successful establishment. In particular, Sacheon City in Gyeongsangnam-do appears to be putting a lot of effort into the project by holding the final report meeting for the ‘Service for establishing a basic plan for urban development linked to the Aerospace Administration’ in December. At that time, Sacheon City prepared a basic urban plan that could be linked with the Aerospace Administration, including establishing a basic concept and implementation plan for the urban development plan and establishing a basic concept and implementation plan for the development of an administrative complex centered on the Aerospace Administration through services. Based on this, Sacheon City plans to form and operate an ‘Aerospace Complex City Construction Promotion Team’ together with Gyeongnam Province in the future. In relation to this, Sacheon Mayor Park Dong-sik said, “Preparations for the passage of the Space Agency Special Act must be thorough in advance,” and added, “Based on this basic plan, we will establish and promote an elaborate implementation plan through future consultations with stakeholders and expert advice.”

The Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial Office is also working hard to promote linked policies. Gyeongnam Province plans to launch a construction preparation team within this month. Prior to forming the government-led promotion team, the preparatory group is responsible for establishing and reviewing plans for building the Aerospace Administration office building, confirming city development-related permits, and attracting companies, etc. They plan to prepare in advance so that an aerospace complex city centered on the Space Agency can be built where industry, education, and international exchanges are integrated. We have also begun establishing urban plans for the construction of Sacheon City and an aerospace complex city. Gyeongnam Province has completed preliminary practical preparations to enable immediate occupancy when the Space Agency opens, and is known to be carrying out related services to improve residential conditions for employees. Gyeongsangnam-do said, “With the establishment of the Space Agency, we will systematically create an aerospace complex city and make it a model example of balanced national development.” He added, “We will enable the Space Agency to become a future growth engine for Gyeongnam and a catalyst for becoming one of the world’s top seven space powers.” I emphasized it.

Photo = Korea Aerospace Research Institute

“Passing a special law is only a ‘starting point’”

However, there is also a view that it is somewhat difficult to expect a rosy future just by passing a special law. The establishment of the Space Agency is only a starting point, and we must be wary of excessive expectations. Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said, “The ruling and opposition parties have reached a difficult agreement on the bill in nine months, so the establishment of the Space Agency can be considered an end in itself.” He added, “The establishment of the Space Agency does not mean passing the finish line, but rather means that a system that can compete with the world has now been established.” “He emphasized. He then raised his voice, saying, “The Space Agency needs to reexamine all of its space policies so far,” and “If we do not have the mindset to start over to that extent, the establishment of the Space Agency will not be able to make the changes that everyone wants.”

Experts mentioned that the level of R&D, which is still stuck at ‘catching up with advanced countries,’ needs to be raised. It is pointed out that only by achieving a transformation into leading space R&D will future space economy and industrialization be possible. Director Lee said, “While the existing semiconductor, automobile, and shipbuilding industries were able to gain a market advantage through mass production by utilizing a slight technological advantage, the space industry does not have a market structure for mass production of launch vehicles or satellites, so it is an unprecedented opportunity.” “Only innovative R&D results survive and are evaluated in the market,” he said emphatically. This means that innovation is very important in the space business. As mentioned earlier, our country’s talent pool is extremely limited in the space industry. In order to achieve the transformation into innovation and leading R&D that experts repeatedly emphasize, it seems necessary to establish more active measures at the government level, such as preparing talent development measures.

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