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Science minister touts Nuri launch as No. 1 achievement

Lee says new space body will accelerate Korea’s space vision

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : May 17, 2023 - 15:33

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Science and ICT Minister Lee Jong-ho speaks during a press conference at the ministry's headquarters in Sejong, Wednesday. (Ministry of Science and ICT) Science and ICT Minister Lee Jong-ho speaks during a press conference at the ministry's headquarters in Sejong, Wednesday. (Ministry of Science and ICT)

South Korea’s Minister of Science and ICT Lee Jong-ho touted the successful launch of the nation’s homegrown Rocket Nuri last year as one of his top achievements, marking the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

“I was under huge pressure before the second launch of Nuri that took place in June (last year),” said Lee during a press conference in Sejong on Wednesday. “It was a weight off my shoulders to have given hope to our people during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, ushering in a new space economy.”

Kim underscored that South Korea has become the world’s seventh country with advanced space technology, after placing Danuri into the lunar orbit in December as well.

Starting off with Rocket Nuri’s third launch slated for May 23, the Science Ministry vowed to support the development of space exploration technology and spacecraft parts. Unlike the first and second launches, which focused on developing capabilities, this launch aims to advance technology by placing satellites into a targeted orbit.

One of this year’s key goals is to set up Korea’s version of NASA, Lee said. He is making efforts to meet with political party representatives – including lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea who oppose the idea of a “K-NASA” -- to organize a preparation committee by the end of this month.

Lee said that he had laid the foundations for expanding the country’s footing in the race for technological hegemony, after pledging to support 12 areas of state-led innovation including three major industries -- semiconductors, displays and rechargeable batteries.

Responding to challenges brought upon by ChatGPT, the science minister vowed to make the nation gain a competitive edge in hyperartificial intelligence, as well as set up a data center powered by domestic AI semiconductors.

“Through enacting an AI law, we plan to curb the negative impact of technology such as deepfakes, in addition to writing an AI bill of rights that ensures every citizen benefits from advanced digital technology,” Lee said.

“In terms of strengthened Korea-US ties in technological cooperation, we plan to follow up on business deals made (during South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to the US) and allocate budgets to support them,” he said. “The upcoming Korea-US Joint Committee on Science and Technological Cooperation meeting scheduled on Friday will mark the first step toward a bilateral tech alliance in space, digital biotechnology and quantum technologies.”

Looking back on his one year in office, the science minister expressed several regrets over incidents in telecommunications safety and security that took place under his watch. These include a major fire at Kakao’s data center which caused massive disruptions across the country for users of its popular messaging app, and a hacking incident at mobile carrier LG Uplus.

As for major challenges that lie ahead in telecommunications policy, the 5G mobile network business topped the list. The ministry had to cancel SK Telecom’s license for the new 28-gigahertz spectrum of a next-generation 5G network because the firm failed to install an adaquate number of mandatory equipment. KT and LG Uplus were also stripped of their licenses last year.

“Many countries are allocating 28 GHz spectrum and effectively providing high-speed network service for users. We will actively seek other operators for the network,” Lee said.

When asked about the upcoming inspection on Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant ahead of its release of contaminated water, Lee said the Science Ministry is working with the Foreign Ministry to finalize a checklist and members of the inspection team.