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Why Korean rockets can’t go solid

Goheung, Naro Space Center ― The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 rocket had a successful launch last month and carried a satellite into orbit, to the joy of Koreans all over the nation.

However, when seen from a technological point of view, there is much room for improvement, particularly in terms of the fuel used to power the rocket.

Due to no wrong from the scientists or the engineers who worked on KSLV-1, Korea is restricted from fueling rockets ― even those to be used for peaceful or space development purposes ― with solid fuel.

Experts at the space center declined to say if they preferred liquid fuel, but the strengths of solid fuel are well known.

Solid-fuel rockets have long been used by many ― including advanced countries such as the U.S. and Europe because this type of fuel can be stored for long periods within the rocket to be reliably launched on short notice, making them appropriate for military purposes, such as missiles.

“When we launch missiles, we need to be able to fire them instantly and immediately upon need,” said one defense source.

Liquid-fuel, on the other hand, is hard to keep; it can’t be kept in the rocket because it needs to be stored at subzero temperatures, and requires complicated equipment, such as separate fuel tanks and pumps.

Due to the military risk that solid fuel poses, Korea, despite its numerous agreements with Washington on non-nuclearization and anti-missile programs ― not to mention that the country is unlikely to consider developing missiles for purposes other than deterring North Korea due to the consequences ― still can’t get its hands on solid fuel based on the missile agreement with the U.S.

By Kim Ji-hyun (