South Korea launches second military spy satellite amid hostility with North

Launch comes as Seoul races Pyongyang to expand surveillance capabilities

Namita Singh
Monday 08 April 2024 08:23 BST
Related: SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Carrying Starlink Satellites Launches From California

South Korea successfully put its second homegrown spy satellite into orbit on Monday, the country’s Defence Ministry confirmed on Monday.

It comes days after North Korea reiterated its intentions to launch multiple reconnaissance satellites this year.

Launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11.17pm on Sunday, the satellite successfully separated from the launch vehicle 45 minutes later and entered its targeted orbit, the ministry said in a statement.

It made successful communication with the ground station about two hours and 40 minutes after the launch.

The ministry said it will check whether the satellite functions properly via its communications with an overseas ground station. Seoul’s second spy satellite is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capable of producing images regardless of weather conditions due to how it processes data.

The country’s “independent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have been further strengthened” by the successful launch, said its military. “We will proceed with future satellite launches without a hitch.”

Under a contract with SpaceX, South Korea is to launch five spy satellites by 2025. This comes as North Korea vowed to launch three new spy satellites in 2024.

The hostile neighbours launched their first spy satellites last year – North Korea in November and South Korea in December – amid heightened animosities. They said their satellites would boost their abilities to monitor each other and enhance their own missile attack capabilities.

At the time, Pyongyang said it used its own Chollima-1 launch vehicle to place the Malligyong-1 reconnaissance satellite in orbit, after two earlier attempts ended in crashes. The launch led to an increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with the neighbours taking steps to breach their 2018 agreement to lower military tensions.

Meanwhile, South Korea suspects that North could launch a second spy satellite by mid-April, said the country’s defence minister Shin Won-sik, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Mr Shin’s comment was based on the military’s observation of North Korea’s related activities, South Korean defence ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-gyu told a briefing.

In 2022, South Korea became the world’s 10th nation to successfully launch a satellite with its own technology by using a homegrown rocket to place what it called a "performance observation satellite" in orbit.

But experts say it’s economical to use a SpaceX rocket to launch spy satellite and that South Korea needs more launches to ensure the reliability of the rocket.

Additional reporting by agencies

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