SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea announced on Monday that it plans to launch its first domestically built spy satellite at the end of this month, with the aim of better monitoring rival North Korea, which has been expanding its arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The announcement comes shortly after North Korea failed to launch its own reconnaissance satellite in October. It is believed that technical issues prevented the launch from taking place.
According to Jeon Ha Gyu, a spokesperson for the South Korean Defense Ministry, the country’s first military spy satellite will be launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on November 30. The satellite will be carried by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. South Korea has plans to launch four more spy satellites by 2025 under a contract with SpaceX, as reported by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
Currently, South Korea relies on U.S. spy satellites to monitor North Korea as it has no military reconnaissance satellites of its own. Having its own spy satellites would provide South Korea with an independent space-based surveillance system, enhancing its defense capabilities against North Korea in real-time.
While U.S. spy satellites offer higher-resolution imagery, they are operated under U.S. strategic objectives and do not always share sensitive information with South Korea, according to Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.
South Korea successfully launched its own “performance observation satellite” last year, becoming the 10th nation in the world to do so. However, more tests are needed to ensure the reliability of the country’s rocket system. Launching the spy satellite with SpaceX’s rocket from the Vandenberg base is considered more economical.
North Korea has also been eager to acquire its own spy satellite. However, its previous launch attempts failed due to technical reasons. South Korea’s spy agency has revealed that North Korea is likely receiving Russian technological assistance for its spy satellite program. The possession of spy satellites is part of North Korea’s ambitious arms build-up plans announced by its leader, Kim Jong Un, in 2021.
It is believed that North Korea is seeking sophisticated weapons technologies from Russia, and in return, supplying ammunition, rockets, and other military equipment for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both Russia and North Korea have denied any arms transfer deal.
South Korea retrieved debris from North Korea’s failed satellite launch in May and concluded that the satellite was too crude for military reconnaissance. However, it is still capable of identifying large targets like warships, making it potentially useful for North Korea.