The bilateral relationship between India and South Korea has made great strides in recent times. In this regard, India’s economic liberalization in early 1990s and adoption of the ‘Look East Policy’ as well as South Korea’s ‘New Asia Diplomacy Initiative’ has played a vital role.[i] Since 1990s, for almost two decades, New Delhi-Seoul relationship was largely driven by economic factors. The strategic context of it was not harnessed adequately until recent times. However, since January 2010, as the bilateral ties were elevated to the level of strategic partnership, the two counties have come to acknowledge the truly multidimensional nature of their relationship, spurred by a significant convergence of interests and mutual goodwill. While political and economic imperatives continue to remain the two major driving forces behind a close New Delhi-Seoul relationship, the two countries’ growing cooperation in the fields of technology and space seem to have opened up new avenues for engagement.

 

At present India is considered to be one of the major space-faring nations in the world, thanks to the relentless efforts made by agencies like the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), among others. Since the successful launch of India’s first satellite – Aryabhata – into space on April 19, 1979, India has launched several series of satellites, e.g., Bhaskara, INSAT 1 and 2, IRS, Rohini, Sross, etc. Over the years, India has also been successful in developing launch vehicles of various kinds. The advancement in space technology has helped India in initiating and boosting its indigenous space programme.[ii]

 

As for South Korea, its space programme is relatively new. The Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) was set up in 1989. Despite major investments in space technology, South Korea was successful in launching a rocket into space (KSLV-1 or Naro) only in January 2013. Nevertheless, with that launch, South Korea emerged as the thirteenth country to get a satellite into orbit from its own territory.[iii] However, KSLV-1 was not built indigenously. As part of a space agreement signed between KARI and Russia (2004), the former purchased a large liquid-fuel Angara booster from Russia, which served as the first stage of the KSLV-I. Russia assisted South Korea in developing and constructing a space-launch facility on an island in South Jeolla province. It provided KARI with astronaut training as well.[iv]

 

South Korea, earlier, had launched its satellite with Indian help in the space. KITSAT-3, the first South Korean satellite was launched by an Indian Polar Satellite Launch vehicle (PSLV-C2) from Sriharikota in May 1999.[v] Given that India’s space technology is considered superior to that of South Korea and cooperation has existed in this field between the two countries, space cooperation could be a new avenue where the two countries could further strengthen their relations. South Korea is planning to place its indigenously developed rocket into the space by 2020.[vi] India could extend its assistance to South Korea in meeting this objective.

 

Since 2005, both India and South Korea have been exploring the possibility of developing bilateral cooperation in the field of science and technology. As part of science and technology cooperation, both the counties are keen on promoting a future-oriented partnership in the arena of outer space and nuclear energy.[vii] They have already signed a MoU of cooperation in the outer space. Today space cooperation constitutes an important part of India-South Korea strategic partnership, as evident from the signing of the Implementation Agreement between the ISRO and KARI in January 2014 towards the peaceful uses of outer space. During South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to New Delhi in January 2014, the then Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh reiterated India’s offer to launch South Korean satellites on India’s satellite launch vehicles on a commercial basis.[viii]   

 

South Korea plans to land a probe on the surface of the Moon by 2025. India has a successful history of the launch of the Chandrayaan in October 2008. South Korea’s endeavours in developing a lunar probe stands to get the benefit of India’s expertise and experience in the field. South Korea also aspires to join the satellite market. In order to realize that goal, South Korea needs to have the capability to develop a reliable launch vehicle to carry medium and heavy satellites.[ix] Given India’s expertise in that area, it can assist South Korea in that regard. India’s cost-effective space launches could prove particularly attractive to Seoul. Keeping in mind the factors mentioned above, India can become an ideal partner for South Korea as far as space cooperation is concerned.

 

It needs to be noted that South Korea has been apprehensive about falling behind the space race in the Korean Peninsula. It was particularly embarrassed as North Korea, even with an economy less than one-twentieth the size of South Korea’s, successfully launched its Unha-3 rocket on December 12, 2012 while South Korea’s attempt to launch space vehicle ended in failure twice before – in 2009 and in 2010.[x] The military aspect of North Korea’s rocket launches seems to worry South Korea all the more. While the international community condemned the North’s rocket launch as some kind of a cover for a test of ballistic missile technology, some South Korean analysts expressed concern that by launching the rocket, North Korea was trying to accelerate its weapons development programme.[xi]

 

South Korea can deal with many of these apprehensions by developing its own space programme further. India and South Korea could think of initiating a partnership in space technology while following, to some extent, the framework adopted by India and Japan in this regard. In October 2008, India’s ISRO and Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) agreed to expand cooperation in disaster management. So far they have also cooperated with each other in many other space-related activities through multilateral frameworks such as The Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). As both India and South Korea are part of the APRSAF, they too could cooperate towards successful conduct of the Forum’s projects related to environment monitoring, climate change, utilization of the International Space Station, capacity building, and opportunity for Small Satellite Technology among others.[xii]

 

India, South Korea and Japan could even explore the possibility of joining hands in some space-related projects, especially disaster management and climate change. On January 8, 2015, South Korea and the US held their space policy talk for the first time and agreed to cooperate in dealing with space debris. Both expressed concern over the serious risks posed by the space debris as those unwanted objects flying in the universe could collide with operating satellites or spacecrafts.[xiii] Given the shared concern among India, South Korea and Japan over space debris, the three too could think of working together in the management of the debris and on the peaceful use of outer space.

 

The trilateral cooperation, however, is not going to be free of challenges, given the fact that South Korea and Japan have some historical and territorial disputes between them. In this context, initiating a trilateral cooperation with them could be a bit tricky for India, at present. However, given that there have been recent advances between the two countries to improve Seoul-Tokyo ties, India can hope to deepen its cooperation with South Korea and Japan in the areas pertaining to space technology through a trilateral framework.

 

India-South Korea space cooperation is still at the nascent state. The two countries certainly need to make further efforts in deepening their partnership in this regard. Political will be a crucial factor in this context, especially in the wake of any likely and unforeseen reaction from China to a perceived space alliance among the three countries. However, India and South Korea could continue to explore the possibility of enhancing cooperation in non-military aspects of space, including communication, positioning, disaster monitoring, resource exploration, weather observation, transportation systems and space science.     

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

 


Notes

 

[i] Pranamita Baruah, “India-South Korea Relations: A New Beginning”, IDSA Comment, January 29, 2014, at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/IndiaSouthKoreaRelations_pbaruah_290114, (accessed on February 7, 2015).   

 

[ii] Anil Satapathy, “History of India’s Space Program”, at http://zeenews.india.com/chandrayaan/story.aspx?aid=477065, (accessed on February 7, 2015).

 

[iii] Jung-yoon Choi and Barbara Demick, “South Korea launches satellite into orbit”, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013, at http://articles.latimes.com/print/2013/jan/30/world/la-fg-wn-south-korea-rocket-satellite-20130130, (accessed on February 12, 2015).

 

[iv] James Clay Moltz, “The KSLV I launch and South Korea’s Space Strategy”, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), October 2012, at  http://www.cfr.org/south-korea/kslv-launch-south-koreas-space-strategy/p29292, (accessed on February 12, 2015). 

 

[v] n. 2.

 

[vi] Ajey Lele, “How geopolitical factors overshadow South Korea’s space success”, The Space Review,

February 4, 2013, at http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2230/1, (accessed on February 12, 2015).

 

[vii] Jojin V. John, “India-South Korea Strategic Partnership: An assessment”, ICS Analysis, No. 13, February 2014, p. 3, at http://www.icsin.org/uploads/2015/04/07/2a91b242830eb77ce8cc4fdc64507f40.pdf (accessed on January 30, 2015)   

 

[viii] “India-Republic of Korea Joint Statement for Expansion of Strategic partnership”, Embassy of India, Seoul, at http://indembassy.or.kr/press_detail.php?nid=205  (accessed on January 30, 2014)

 

[ix] n. 5.

 

[x] Jung-yoon Choi and Barbara Demick, “South Korea launches satellite into orbit”, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013, at http://articles.latimes.com/print/2013/jan/30/world/la-fg-wn-south-korea-rocket-satellite-20130130, (accessed on February 12, 2015).

 

[xi] Ibid.

 

[xii] Extract from presentation by Masanobu Tsuji at the 7th GEOSS Asia-Pacific Symposium, Tokyo, May 26-28, 2014, at https://www.restec.or.jp/geoss_ap7/public/presentation/day1/cr12_aprsaf.pdf, (accessed on March 3, 2015).

 

[xiii] “Seoul, Washington hold first space policy talks”, The Korea Herald, January 9, 2015, at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20150109000798 (accessed on January 13, 2015)