Hanwha Aerospace, South Korea’s largest aircraft engine manufacturer, is speeding up its initiatives to grow its space market. In the most recent move, Hanwha agreed in January to pay $96.8 million (109 billion won) for a majority of 30% in the domestic satellite manufacturer Satrec Initiative (SI) by the completion of April. SI is accredited with creating technological capabilities to manufacture small as well as medium-size Earth-observation spacecrafts, ground systems, as well as electro-optical payloads on the Korean soil, having been founded in the year 1999 by engineers who led to the country’s first satellite, KITSAT-1.
Although SI would be operated separately, Hanwha stated Kim Dong-kwan, the very first son of Hanwha Group chairperson Kim Seung-Youn as well as president of the group’s chemical subsidiary, Hanwha Solutions, would be part of SI serving as a non-standing executive director to help the two companies collaborate. Hanwha stated in a report that its expenditure in SI is to “acquire core technologies linked to the space satellite sector, which is expected to expand in the Modern Space age, and in medium to the long-term, preempt technological advancement via synergy with the business to protect the capacity of satellite production technology.”
SI President Kim Ee-eul stated in a separate report that the agreement “provides the financial assets and strategic alliance that we can exploit for further development.” SI will also “expand the company to proactively react to increasing domestic and foreign demand for Synthetic Aperture Radar as well as infrared satellite systems, and also optical satellite systems,” according to Kim. SI recruited 17 new engineers after the contract was signed, including those with expertise in satellite design and production of synthetic aperture radar (SAR), as per SI.
According to the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo, Dong-Kwan is the brains behind Hanwha’s space business plan. Late last year, the 37-year-old Harvard graduate reportedly formed a “space task force” with about 10 authorities from Hanwha Systems, Hanwha Aerospace, and Hanwha Corporation, according to the article. Hanwha Aerospace, in cooperation with SI, will develop satellite as well as rocket booster technology; Hanwha Systems, for main satellite equipment for the Earth observation like SAR as well as antennas; Hanwha Defense, for launchpads; and the Hanwha Corporation, for the solid fuel.
In July, the United States granted South Korea permission to undertake research and build solid-propellant rockets. Just before this, a bilateral nonproliferation deal with the United States focused on ballistic missiles prevented the country from producing solid-fueled launch vehicles. According to a January 13 research document co-written by Lee Tae-hwan as well as Lee Dong-heon of Daishin Securities, “the agreement [between SI and Hanwha] is supposed to bring about such a [Hanwha] group-wide synergy [in spite of space business].”