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Korean Air explores satellite launches from planes

The plan is to develop an air-launch system using its Boeing 747-400 aircraft

Korean Air begins research on air launching using its Boeing 747-400 aircraft. (Korean Air)
Korean Air begins research on air launching using its Boeing 747-400 aircraft. (Korean Air)
Korean Air said Tuesday it recently began a joint research project with Seoul National University, backed by the Republic of Korea Air Force, to explore the possibility of using large commercial aircraft for air launching.

As part of the project, the South Korean national carrier will analyze the current technological capabilities, how to apply core technologies to the project, annual operating costs, and aircraft modification in order to develop an air-launch system with the Boeing 747-400.

The airline also said it plans to seek ways to commercialize the modified aircraft in the future.

The announcement comes after the South Korea-US missile guidelines that restricted the range of the country’s ballistic-missiles was terminated in May this year, clearing the path for the development and operation of an air-launch system.

With satellites currently only available to be launched from Naro Space Center, in South Jeolla Province, the latest move will see the country’s air-launching capabilities improve and help overcome its geographical limitations, the airline said.

“To attract the fast-growing, worldwide demand for small satellite launches, it is essential to develop capabilities for air launching, which is not affected by weather or geographical conditions,” the airline said in a statement.

“We will use our extensive experience operating aircraft and expertise in the aerospace business, which includes aircraft system integration and assembling Korea’s first space launch vehicle, Naro, to develop an air-launch system that is competitive in the global market.”

Air-launch vehicles are launched at altitudes of 12 kilometers, making them less affected by weather conditions that often set back ground launches.

It is also thought to be cost effective as air launching cuts the cost of site construction and maintenance costs.

The airline said it sees a “possibility” in generating revenues by providing the service to other countries without their own launch site.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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