Korean Air has recently commenced a joint research project with Seoul National University, which was commissioned by the Republic of Korea Air Force, to develop the feasibility of using large commercial aircraft for air launching.
As part of the joint research, Korean Air will analyze the Boeing 747-400’s current technology capability, major technology to be applied, annual operating costs, and necessary aircraft modification for air launching. The airline will further explore ways to commercialize the modified aircraft in the market.
Until now, it was not possible to develop projectiles that launch in the air due to the Korea-U.S. “guidelines” that restricted the range of Korea’s ballistic-missiles. However, with the termination of these regulations in May 2021, the development and operation of an air launch system is now possible.
This research is especially meaningful as air launching capabilities will help Korea to overcome its geographical limitations. Currently, satellites can only be launched southward from Naro Space Center, Korea’s spaceport located in the southwest province. However, air launch vehicles can be launched in various directions and routes. Air launch vehicles are launched at altitudes of 12 km, making them less affected by weather conditions, which are a common drawback of ground launches.
In addition, air launching cuts the cost of building and maintaining a site to launch vehicles. There is also the possibility to generate revenues by providing services to other countries that do not have their own launch site.
For this reason, some countries have already been utilizing commercial aircraft for air launches. LauncherOne, an orbital launch vehicle developed by Virgin Orbit in the U.S, was successfully launched using a modified Boeing 747-400 in January and June 2021.
While the military, government and companies scramble to announce plans to utilize small satellite constellations in the “new space age,” an environment to launch small satellites in Korea has not been established yet. Therefore, it is inevitable to use overseas projectiles, which take more than two years on average from the signing of the contract to the actual launch. This is the reason why the development of air launching capabilities must be prioritized.
“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,” said Korean Air. “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.”
About Korean Air
Korean Air, established in 1969, is one of the world’s top 20 airlines and carried more than 27 million passengers in 2019, pre-COVID. The airline serves 120 cities in 43 countries on five continents; it has a modern fleet of 158 aircraft and employs over 20,000 professional employees. Its global hub is at Incheon International Airport (ICN) and its core businesses are passenger, cargo, aerospace, and aviation maintenance and repair.
Korean Air is a founding member of the SkyTeam airline alliance – 19 member airlines working together across an extensive global network to welcome 676 million customers each year on more than 15,445 daily flights to 1,036 destinations in 170 countries (pre-COVID.)
Korean Air’s joint venture with Delta Air Lines has produced significant expediency and access to hundreds of destinations in the Americas on Delta and 80 points in Asia on Korean Air. Korean Air and Delta co-locate in Incheon’s beautiful Terminal 2, making connections between Asia and America some of the industry’s quickest.
With more than 50 years of serving the world, Korean Air’s vision is to be a respected leader in the world airline community, dedicated to providing Excellence in Flight. Its commitment to airline safety, cleanliness and comfort is renowned.
More on Korean Air’s programs, routes, frequencies and partners is available at koreanair.com
Featured image credited to Korean Air