A SpaceX rocket carrying South Korea’s first spy satellite took off from California on Friday, according to the US space company’s live broadcast, less than two weeks after Pyongyang launched its own military reconnaissance satellite.
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If successfully placed into orbit, the South Korean satellite is expected to monitor the activities of nuclear-armed North Korea.
The Seoul satellite was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from the Californian Vandenberg base at 6:19 p.m. GMT on Friday (10:19 a.m. local time, 3:19 a.m. Saturday Seoul time).
The mission also carried other satellites from different customers. SpaceX interrupted its live video shortly after the launch, without showing images of the cargo deployed in space.
South Korea plans to launch four additional satellites by the end of 2025 to boost its capabilities.
The satellite is to be placed in low Earth orbit, and will be able to detect an object as small as 30 centimeters, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“Considering its resolution and its Earth observation capacity (…) our satellite technology ranks among the top five in the world,” said a South Korean Defense Ministry official, quoted by Yonhap.
To monitor Pyongyang’s activities, “so far, South Korea has relied heavily on US reconnaissance satellites,” Choi Gi-il, a professor at Sangji University, told AFP.
Although the country “has already succeeded in launching a military communications satellite, it took much longer for a reconnaissance satellite, due to greater technological challenges,” he added. But after North Korea’s successful launch of a spy satellite, “the government of South Korea must also demonstrate that it can do it.”
Since the launch of North Korea’s “Malligyong-1” satellite last week, Pyongyang has claimed to have been able to observe major sites in the United States and South Korea. However, no images have been made public.
This takeoff was North Korea’s third attempt to put such a military observation satellite into orbit, after two failures in May and August.
Seoul claimed that Russia had technically helped North Korea with the operation.
The West, Japan and South Korea denounced this launch, as did UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.