(Bloomberg) -- Space development can reshape the world economic order, a South Korean official said, as Seoul works to expand its prowess among a small group of countries capable of developing and launching their own space vehicles.
Titanium, platinum and rare-earth materials are among commodities South Korea should be able to independently excavate in space missions given their importance for future economic growth, Kwon Hyunjoon, director-general of the Science Ministry’s space and nuclear bureau, said in a briefing Tuesday.
South Korea is trying to play catchup in the global space race after launching its home-grown, three-stage Nuri rocket about a year ago. President Yoon Suk Yeol said last month his country plans to land a spacecraft on the moon in 2032 as it searches for minerals on the lunar surface. After that, South Korea will aim to touch down on Mars by 2045.
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The country’s space program has been hit by a series of delays and troubles over the years and still has a while to go before it can reach the more advanced levels of neighbors China and Japan. On top of that, it remains to be seen if there is a cost-efficient way to extract resources on the moon, which would likely require a source for hydrogen and oxygen that could be used to power rockets, a research paper on lunar propellant production said.
Kwon compared the space race to the “Age of Discovery,” which he said “made a massive difference between countries able to transport men and materials across the seas and those that couldn’t.” The U.S. would be a key partner in space development rather than China, he added.
South Korea plans to spend more than 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) to build a rocket to reach the moon and about 680 billion won on a landing craft, Kwon said.
The government will take the lead in jump-starting demand for spacecraft given the small domestic industry, he said. South Korea will initially focus on the market for satellites in low earth orbit, which would form a bigger share of the entire space industry Kwon estimated to be about 1,100 trillion won by 2040.
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