Busan joins space race with launch of satellites

Busan, the biggest port city in South Korea, is planning to launch two small satellites into space by early next year, the first for a local government.  Busan wants to use the launch to promote the space expedition industry and the local information communications technologies.  

Currently, the satellites are being constructed with help from the private sector, including local start-ups and academic institutions like Busan National University, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, and Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.  The U.S. NASA is a partner too.

This ambitious project, spearheaded by the Busan City Office and Busan Techno Park, is one of the 2019 pilot projects of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development. 

Nanosatellite model.

Dr. Seo Hyo-jin, key official of the project and chief of the Marine Logistics Center at Busan Techno Park, said the satellites will be ready for launch by the end of this year and they will be tested on Earth before being sent into space.

An official from the Marine Water Policy Division at the Busan City Office, who spoke with Maritime Fairtrade and wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the launch can attract more business opportunities.

“Developing and launching satellites requires a great amount of investment and it is difficult for local governments to undertake alone,” she said in a phone interview. “Other countries, like the U.S., are already at the forefront this industry, showing us how valuable space technologies can be. We expect the launch to contribute to the local economy.”

She added that local businesses will be able to access the satellites’ datasets with fewer administrative barriers, unlike other satellite data that requires much paperwork and two to three weeks of waiting due to security concerns.  It is also expected that local space technology companies will be able to expand their business, given the buzz of the high-profile launch.  She also said there will be more opportunities for future collaboration with NASA.

A model of the satellite.

The two satellites, costing 1.4 billion won (US$1.04 million) each, and known as “Busan Sat A” and “Busan Sat B”, each weigh 13 kg with a dimension of 120 by 120 cm.  They will rotate at 500 km altitude and come with a multispectral camera and a polarized camera attached to the body.  The satellites, among other applications, are expected to improve the efficiency of monitoring marine resources and operations.

The multispectral camera – which costs 770 million won (US$570,000) can take high-resolution photos in multiple spectrums – will be used in identifying locations of ships and red tide in the ocean. The city also expects to collect marine datasets like the absorption rate of carbon dioxide.  On the other hand, the polarized camera – costing 800 million won (US$590,000), is often used in environments with lower contrast or higher reflection rates – will monitor fine dust floating near the ocean.

The Marine Water Policy Division official said: “The internet does not work when ships are more than 80 kilometers from shore.  Therefore, in times of emergency, it is difficult to make contact.  It is also hard for the Coast Guard to monitor illegal fishing.  So, the satellites will enable us to plug the gaps.”

Photo credit: iStock/ 3DSculptor

Sunny Um

Sunny Um

Sunny, our South Korea correspondent working out of Seoul, is a journalist with a passion for community journalism and an interest in economics and politics.

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