South Korea launches 2nd spy satellite amid space race with North Korea

It's the country's first satellite with synthetic aperture radar capabilities that can penetrate through clouds, smoke, and haze to create high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface.

Kim Arin

Kim Arin

The Korea Herald


Minister of National Defense Shin Won-sik (center) watches the live broadcast of the launch of South Korea’s military reconnaissance satellite on Monday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE/THE KOREA HERALD

April 9, 2024

SEOUL – South Korea on Monday succeeded in sending its second domestically made military reconnaissance satellite into space from the US to enhance its space-based surveillance of North Korea and deterrence against nuclear and missile threats.

The Ministry of National Defense said the satellite was launched at 8:17 a.m., Korea time, on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. About 45 minutes after liftoff at 9:02 a.m., the satellite entered its target orbit after separating from the rocket. The satellite established contact with the ground station at 10:57 a.m. The first attempt at communication at 9:11 a.m. was unsuccessful.

With Monday’s launch, the South Korean military has its first satellite with synthetic aperture radar capabilities, which means that it is capable of penetrating through clouds, smoke and haze to create high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface.

“With the first SAR-equipped satellite, our military’s capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have been further strengthened,” the Defense Ministry said.

The Defense Ministry said the satellite will conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations over North Korea.

According to the Defense Ministry, the satellite can receive radio signals that are bounced back from the ground to generate images; perform all-weather missions, unaffected by weather conditions or time of day; acquire high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance; and capture images with agile attitude maneuver capabilities.

South Korea plans on launching a third military reconnaissance satellite later this year, and two more the following year. The three satellites to be launched will also have SAR capabilities.

The first military reconnaissance satellite, also homegrown, was put into space on Dec. 2 last year from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. The first satellite, using electro-optical and infrared sensors, was launched about a week after North Korea’s first “successful” launch of its satellite on Nov. 21.

South Korean Minister of National Defense, Shin Won-sik, told reporters at the watch event on Monday that North Korea is “likely” to launch a second military reconnaissance satellite as early as mid-April in time for its special holiday.

“We had been watching whether North Korea would be able to launch a second spy satellite last month, but it seems they need some technical complementing,” he said. “The launch may happen in mid-April if things go as planned.”

The minister said that the capabilities of South Korea’s reconnaissance satellites are “far superior to” those of North Korea. “The gap between our and their reconnaissance satellites is undoubtedly large. Our satellites are among the best in the world,” he said.

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