MSS19 Internship stories: Miguel Chafen at KARI, South Korea

International Space University Master of Space Studies MSS19 student – Miguel Chafen – reports on his internship. “My mornings are like any other. I wake up, prepare for the day, and then commute to work. A key difference, however, is that my commute is only about 200 meters and two elevator rides.

That is because I work at the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). KARI currently has three facilities: a ground station off the mainland in Jeju Island, the Naro launch center on the southern coast, and the main branch in here in Daejeon. This organization is so well-developed, that beyond a satellite communications & control center and research and space technology testing facilities, they offer a gym, onsite daycare and staff housing for their employees.

KARI3Such is this nation’s commitment to creating a national space identity that has already yielded a national launch center, a tracking station and the operation of many payloads in orbit, with plans to send a probe to the Moon, create its own satellite launch vehicle, and develop a regional satellite navigation system.
In the last twenty-five years, South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea) has overcome multiple dictatorships and the economic destruction of a civil war to become one of the most powerful and influential economies in the world. Of course, I already knew this from the two years I spent here as an English teacher, where I learned that, despite its rapid rise, Korea still maintained its time-honored traditions and culture, something I enjoyed very much.

Some might say that returning to this country was the reason why I decided to choose KARI when it came time to settle on an internship. However, my re-acquaintance with Samgyupsal (barbequed pork) was only a very happy bonus. My years as a teacher and, in a prior life, in corporate communications, have left me very interested in the world of policy and international cooperation. As a growing governmental space organization, KARI had a lot to offer to someone looking to learn about these fields.

My mentor is Chung So-Young, an established member of the Policy and Cooperation Division of the International Cooperation Team where I now work. She has worked here for ten years, and the vast knowledge and experience comes through. Upon meeting her on my first day, we organized the project around which I would organize my time here. To properly manage and fund the growing Korean investment in space, the policy office is looking to perform research on the governance of other space entities around the world. To that end, I have been creating a database of all information regarding organizational structures, including legal charters, founding documents, integration into the relevant governmental systems, and the scope of the organization as a whole. Additionally, I have also been able to integrate this research into direct assistance to my colleagues, many of whom will be meeting representatives of some of these agencies and may need some proper background knowledge before doing so.


Beyond my project, I have also had the privilege of attending many lectures, such as representatives from the Galileo project when they came to provide advice and assistance. In July, the 10th annual KARI International Space Training (IST) will be held here in Daejeon. It will be a gathering here of many representatives from advanced and developing nations to assist in training for those developing nations in various space-related fields. It is here where some of my research will be used. I really look forward to the opportunities of this event and to meet all the attendees.

In the meantime, I have enjoyed becoming reacquainted with the Korean lifestyle and getting in touch with old friends, as well as visiting the beautiful landscapes. KARI alone was worth the trip, but having had a great experience here before, all I can say is that it’s great to be back!”

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Pictures credits: Miguel Chafen/ISU MSS19