US Expands Partnership with South Korea in Space Exploration

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by Jeesu Lee
ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se and US Ambassador to the ROK Mark Lippert shake hands after signing the US-ROK civil space cooperation agreement [Image: Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

A US-ROK space pact called the “Framework Agreement for Cooperation in Aeronautics and the Exploration and Use of Airspace and Outer Space for Civil and Peaceful Purposes” came into effect on November 3, 2016. ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se and US Ambassador to the ROK Mark Lippert signed the agreement at the second US-ROK Civil Space Dialogue, held in Seoul on April 27, 2016. The US government has established intergovernmental framework agreements on space cooperation with 11 countries including Russia, Canada, and France, with South Korea being the first Asian country among the group.

The agreement sets forth the terms and conditions for civil space cooperation that will be applied for future space exploration, Earth science, and possible use of the International Space Station. The agreement also identifies several major US and Korean institutes as implementing agencies, such as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) and Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) which have prior experience collaborating. NASA has been conducting research on solar physics with KASI since 2010 and recently started the Korea US-Air Quality study (KORUS-AQ) with South Korea’s National Institute of Environmental Research. For atmospheric research, NOAA shares satellite data with KMA, which successfully launched its first weather satellite in 2010. The legal framework established by the framework agreement facilitates cooperation in these fields of study.

American space cooperation with other Asian countries is also increasing. In 2014, Japan successfully launched a scientific satellite jointly developed with the US and India also cooperated with the US to put a satellite into orbit around Mars. Recently, Taiwan and China started working in space with the US. In July 2016, three Taiwanese research institutions signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA, and on October 20, 2016, the Chinese government held a second meeting of space dialogue with the US in Washington DC to share information on space policies and conduct discussions on further collaboration.

Jeesu Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.