ISU - Summer 2024

South Korea Launches First Military Spy Satellite

South Korea
South Korea satellite at launch. Credit: SpaceX

Ibadan, 4 December 2023. – SpaceX has successfully launched its first military spy satellite to better monitor North Korea. The launch happened at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. It is the first of five spy satellites South Korea contracted with SpaceX to launch into space by 2025. Furthermore, the satellite is an electrooptical and infrared device, while the four remaining satellites will feature synthetic aperture radar, which can “see” through cloud cover and at night.

The launch comes days after North Korea launched its own spy satellite, as its space agency reported that its new “Chollima-1” carrier rocket accurately placed the Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit on Tuesday night, about 12 minutes after liftoff from the country’s main launch center.

“With this successful launch of the military satellite, our military has secured independent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” said South Korea’s defense ministry in a statement. The statement also added that the South Korean military is developing a microsatellite system project for rapid monitoring and early warning. South Korea’s defense ministry also added that it would maximize the capabilities of its independent surveillance and reconnaissance assets to gain an overwhelming advantage in competition with North Korea.

Prior to the launch, South Korea had no military reconnaissance satellites in space and instead relied on the United States spy satellites to monitor moves by North Korea. As a result, putting its own spy satellites in space would give South Korea an independent space-based surveillance system to monitor North Korea in almost real-time. Furthermore, operating it together with South Korea’s three-axis system would improve the country’s overall defense against North Korea, according to Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

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