Korea’s effort to land on the moon hits a snag

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Korea’s effort to land on the moon hits a snag

Reaching the moon is going to take a little longer for Korea.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said Wednesday that it would delay its lunar exploration project for another two years after a committee found that a number of core technologies necessary for the project had not been secured yet and concluded it would be difficult to proceed as scheduled.

The government initially hoped to plant a Korean flag on the moon by 2020, but hurdles involving technology have pushed back the timeline.

The project includes two steps: sending a lunar orbiter to circumnavigate the moon and landing a lunar module on the moon’s surface. The Korean government is in the middle of the first step and receiving research support from NASA in exchange for hosting payloads on the orbiter.

The second step - landing a module on the moon’s surface and driving a rover - is to be done without NASA’s help. Only six countries in the world, including China, Japan, Russia and the United States, have completed this step without outside help.

“It is hard to expect what will happen next when it comes to lunar exploration,” said Bae Tae-min, an official at the ministry in charge of the project. “There is a possibility that the first-step timeline could be postponed again. We are going to start setting up a schedule for the second step in the latter half of this year.”

In 2007, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute recommended completing the first step by 2020 and the second step by 2025. But former President Park Geun-hye during her campaign in 2012 pledged to plant a Korean flag on the moon by 2020 and condensed the timeline, ordering the first step to be finished by 2018.

Aeronautics experts say exploring the moon with completely indigenous technology is hard to achieve in just three years.

“It takes five to eight years just to develop a satellite,” said Bang Hyo-choong, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who led the committee that evaluated the project’s progress. “Finishing the first step of moon exploration in just three years is realistically hard to achieve.”

The project’s budget will remain unchanged. The first step is expected to cost 197.8 billion won ($173.2 million), and the second step will require 537.8 billion won.

BY MOON HEE-CHUL, JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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