Why do we keep launching rockets?

On June 21st, South Korea launched the first space rocket fully produced in the country. Called Nuri, the equipment can carry 1.3 tons of cargo up to the range between 600 and 800 kilometers, which makes it capable of launching satellites.

To get to that point, the South Korean space program went through – as others did – the disgust of failure. Last year, the first Nuri rocket failed to reach Earth’s orbit, frustrating the team of scientists and engineers and the local government, which invested the equivalent of R$9 billion, value in effect at the time.

Persistence was rewarded. South Korea is now part of the select group of seven countries that dominate satellite launch technology, alongside China, the United States, France, India, Japan, and Russia.

But why didn’t Seoul give up? Why do more and more countries create and maintain their space programs? Does launching rockets, fabricating, and operating satellites in orbit make sense? Why do we keep launching rockets?

There are several answers and justifications, but the synthesis is: for developing national technology and talents capable of meeting day-to-day demands and – let’s not be naive – to mark a position in the dispute for global influence and hegemony. A look at the history of Brazil brings us evidence that corroborates this response.

In the late 1960s, the first focus of the pest called “rust” was found in the coffee plantations in the state of Bahia (Brazil),  which spread and brought the productivity of that crop down  by about 30%. In 1970, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) started the Rust Mission, the first experience in remote sensing whose objective was to detect the pest in coffee plantations in the region of Caratinga (MG). However, for this and several other needs, such as mapping deforestation in the Amazon, we depended on information from LANDSAT US satellites.

Today, Brazil has three of its satellites in orbit to perform remote sensing tasks: CBERS-4 and CBERS-04A, developed in partnership with China, and Amazônia-1, designed and built by a Brazilian team. This nationalization movement, through INPE and the    Brazilian Space Agency (AEB),   generated orders for technological products from the national industry.

Over time, this type of space program structuring boosted economies and provided the creation of products that are widely disseminated worldwide. In other words, part of the wealth generated in some countries comes from space programs.

There are numerous examples. The creation of digital cameras on smartphones dates back to   NASA’s developments to reduce weight and take up less space in rockets. Still, in the audiovisual field, the US Space Agency also started the most successful initiative to compress video files, to facilitate the transmission of data through space, giving rise to MJPEG and other formats.

An increasing number of countries have been interested in developing space programs, in some cases en bloc, such as the   European Space Agency . And further disruptive technologies originated through these efforts will come into our daily lives.

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