August 11, 2009: South Korea plans to launch its first rocket later this month at the Naro launch facility, a new facility on an island 480 miles south of Seoul. This vehicle, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), was only possible with the assistance of the Russian Khrunichev State Space Science and Production Center.
The United States had long hindered the native rocket and missile research programs of South Korea to avoid increasing tensions with its neighbors - especially China and North Korea. They feared that a more assertive South Korea with more capabilities in this field would be tempted to strike against North Korea, leading to a war the USA would be dragged into. The USA also tried to block South Korea from joining the Missile Technology Control Regime which they only managed to enter in 2001. This upset South Korea, as NASA was cooperating strongly with both Russia and Japan. Thus five years ago South Korea entered a partnership with Russia, which suited both sides - Russia was interested in other South Korean technologies and also was able to pay off some of its debts to South Korea (which loaned Russia large sums of money after the collapse of the Soviet Union).
Today, this relationship has soured somewhat, and many delays to the project have resulted from the declining trust Russia places in South Korea. In the meantime, cooperation with the United States has improved, although the United States remain concerned about a space race between South Korea, China, Japan, and North Korea, as rocket technologies and technologies used for ballistic missiles are closely related. China remains ambiguous on the South Korean project - given its own space efforts, it has a hard time arguing against peaceful, civilian space programs. Observers have noted that Japan is also not reacting to the fact that stages of the KSLV-1, if successfully launched, will pass over Japan - a sharp contrast to the North Korean launch earlier this year, where the Japanese military went on high alert.
Game and Story Use
- If South Korea keeps on developing its space program, it might become a dark horse contender in future space races and efforts to colonize the solar system.
- If relationships with Russia had not soured, a Russian-South Korean axis might become a major technological and economic power - especially if their space ventures become profitable (perhaps due to mining space for raw resources, such as He-3 isotopes for fusion reactors).
- Similarly spectacular and expensive technologies with both civilian and military applications might be as divisive in other settings as they are in our world.