South Korea has announced its plans to launch its first domestically built spy satellite at the end of November. The satellite will be launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Under a contract with SpaceX, South Korea also plans to launch four more spy satellites by 2025. Currently, South Korea relies on American military reconnaissance satellites to monitor North Korea’s activities.
The possession of its own spy satellites will provide South Korea with an independent space-based surveillance system to monitor North Korea in real-time. This will significantly strengthen South Korea’s overall defense against North Korea when combined with the country’s three-axis system, which includes preemptive strike, missile defense, and retaliatory assets. South Korean researcher Lee Choon Geun said that American spy satellites produce higher-resolution imagery but operate under US strategic objectives, which may not always align with South Korea’s interests.
Last year, South Korea successfully launched a homegrown satellite using its own technology. However, observers note that using a SpaceX rocket will provide a more reliable launch vehicle. While North Korea also seeks to acquire its own spy satellite, it has faced technical failures in its previous launch attempts.
South Korea’s spy agency recently informed lawmakers that North Korea is likely receiving Russian technological assistance for its spy satellite program. The possession of spy satellites is part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s ambitious arms build-up plans, along with the acquisition of other sophisticated weapons technologies.
While North Korea initially planned a third launch in October, it did not follow through, and the reason has not been provided by its state media. There is speculation that North Korea could still benefit from the satellite’s capabilities in identifying large targets like warships.