South Korea yesterday launched its first military communications satellite which will boost its ability to collect information on North Korea, officials said.
The Mugunghwa-5 satellite, built by French company Alcatel, lifted off from a ship in the South Pacific off Hawaii, telecom firm KT Corp and the defense ministry said.
The launch was led by Sea Launch, a joint venture established by US, Russian and European companies.
"We successfully made our first contact with the satellite one hour and 15 minutes after its launch," KT spokesman Hwang Dae-woon said.
The satellite to be placed in its orbit at 36,000km can cover telecommunications not only in the Korean Peninsula but also other Asian countries, including Japan and China, after four months of testing, he said.
The Mugunghwa-5 is the South's fourth communications satellite but the first for military purposes. Twelve of its 36 communications lines will be used exclusively by the military.
"The Mugunghwa-5 will greatly improve our information-gathering and communications ability," a defense ministry official said. The military currently relies heavily on land lines and terrestrial radio communications.
Along with the introduction of anti-missile equipment, South Korea will buy four advanced surveillance planes from US aircraft giant Boeing by 2012 to upgrade its early warning capability.
South Korea has no air surveillance system of its own and depends on US airborne reconnaissance aircraft based at Okinawa.
Seoul has launched three commercial satellites -- Mugunghwa 1, 2 and 3, since 1995. There is no Mugunghwa 4 because four is considered an unlucky number.