South Korea on Saturday confirmed its first military spy satellite had reached orbit after a Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) rocket launch and that communication was established with ground control.
Seoul’s reconnaissance satellite, carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, intensifies a space race on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea launched its own first military eye in the sky last week.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said its satellite reached orbit soon after the rocket, emblazoned with the word “KOREA,” lifted off from the US Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 10:19am on Friday.
Photo: EPA-EFE / handout / Space Exploration Technologies Corp via South Korean Ministry of National Defense
“The satellite was launched 0319 Seoul time and was successfully separated from projectile 11 minutes later and put into targeted orbital trajectory,” the ministry said in a statement. “We have confirmed its communications with the ground command.”
Reaching orbit means that South Korea now has its first domestically built spy satellite to monitor nuclear-armed North Korea.
Seoul plans to launch four additional spy satellites by the end of 2025 to bolster its reconnaissance capacity over Pyongyang.
Set to orbit between 400km and 600km above Earth, South Korea’s satellite is capable of detecting an object as small as 30cm, the Yonhap News Agency said.
“Considering resolution and its capacity for Earth observation ... our satellite technology ranks in the top five globally,” Yonhap quoted a defense ministry official as saying.
The launch came less than two weeks after Pyongyang successfully put its own spy satellite into orbit.
“Until now, South Korea has relied heavily on US-run spy satellites” when it comes to monitoring the North, Sangji University military studies professor Choi Gi-il said.
While South Korea has “succeeded in the launch of a military communications satellite, it has taken much longer for a reconnaissance satellite due to higher technological hurdles,” he said.
Following North Korea’s successful launch of a spy satellite, “the South Korean government needs to demonstrate it can also pull this off,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang yesterday said it would “destroy” US spy satellites if Washington tries “any attack” on its space asset.
A North Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman said it would consider such a move a “declaration of war,” according to a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The statement came after a US official’s remark that Washington “could deny an adversary’s space and counterspace capabilities ... using a variety of reversible and irreversible means.”
The US military could undermine the “effectiveness and lethality of adversary forces across all domains,” US Space Command public affairs officer Sheryll Klinkel told Radio Free Asia this week.
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