Send to

Korea looks to grant full autonomy, flexibility for new space body

KSAA officials promised to get hefty compensation on par with NASA employees

March 2, 2023 - 00:01 By Kan Hyeong-woo
South Korea's homegrown space rocket Nuri lifts off from Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province on June 21, 2022. (Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

South Korea aims to establish a space agency based on a special law granting a degree of autonomy and flexibility the country’s public sector has never seen, reflecting the government’s all-out efforts to develop and support the space sector.

The Ministry of Science and ICT on Thursday announced the beginning of the advanced publication of legislation for the special law on the establishment and operation of the country’s new space agency. The space agency has been tentatively named the Korea Space and Aeronautics Administration, according to the preparatory office.

Choi Won-ho, director general of the KSAA’s preparatory office, explained that the unique legal measures for the new space body are to help recruit talented space professionals, in a meeting with reporters in Seoul on Tuesday.

“The exemptions are mostly about hiring outside experts. Our purpose is to loosen up the tightened rules that can hinder the inflow of talented personnel and offer them the treatment that corresponds to their expertise,” he said.

Under the Government Organization Act, the proportion of term-based public officials cannot exceed 20 percent at a government body. In order to secure top space talent from the private sector, the special law puts no limit on the proportion of term-based public officials at the KSAA.

In theory, the space agency’s term-based public officials could have no cap on their salary, as the special law gives the KSAA’s head the authority to determine the level of wages depending on the importance and the role of each individual.

“We decided to remove the limitations (on the wage) under the consensus that (KSAA’s term-based public officials) should be paid more than other public officials. We will prepare the specific payment standards in the subordinate legislation,” said Choi.

“We are trying to give enough flexibility and autonomy so that they can be paid as much as needed.”

Noting that the average annual salary for workers at the US’ space agency NASA is estimated to be between 200 million won ($151,000) and 300 million won, he said the KSAA could offer similar salaries.

The hiring process will also be different for the space body. Unlike the current employment regulations that require open recruitment by notice, the KSAA will be able to scout talented professionals if deemed necessary.

Another distinguished feature of the KSAA is that it will be able to complete the administrative process for organizing teams and departments in a week or less, whereas the existing public regulation requires three months or longer to make organizational shifts within a public body.

The KSAA will have the authority to manage its own budget in a more flexible manner for swift research and development efforts as long as it conducts prior consultations with the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The government will also set up a space and aeronautics support fund to continuously carry out long-term investments.

Regarding the concerns about the special law allowing the employment of foreigners and multinational holders at the KSAA, Choi dismissed the possibility of reckless hiring practices that could put the country’s national interest at risk.

“It’s not about freely hiring foreigners for every position. If there is a spot where a (qualified) foreigner is absolutely necessary, we will prepare a strict screening procedure so that there will not be any room for a security breach,” he said.

The proposed act, which is composed of 19 articles, will set up a new governance system for the country’s space sector by bringing all space-related projects and policies from different ministries such as the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy into one decision-making body in the KSAA.

The advanced publication of legislation for the KSAA’s special law will last until March 17. Anyone with a valid Korean phone number can submit opinions about the special law during this period on the Ministry of Government Legislation’s website. The government plans to obtain the National Assembly’s approval in the first half of this year and establish the KSAA before the end of the year.

Citizens look around the exhibition of the country's pictures captured by South Korea's homegrown satellite at Sejong National Arboretum on February 10. (Yonhap)