South Korea has announced plans to launch its first domestically built spy satellite at the end of this month. The satellite will enhance South Korea’s monitoring capabilities of its rival North Korea, which is actively expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal. The decision comes after North Korea’s failed attempt to launch its own reconnaissance satellite in October.
The South Korean Defense Ministry revealed that the military spy satellite will be launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on November 30. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will carry the satellite. South Korea has a contract with SpaceX to launch four more spy satellites by 2025, aiming to establish an independent space-based surveillance system.
South Korea currently relies on US spy satellites for monitoring North Korea, and owning its own spy satellites will significantly strengthen the country’s defense capabilities. The possession of spy satellites, along with South Korea’s preemptive strike, missile defense, and retaliatory assets, will provide comprehensive defense against North Korea.
While US spy satellites offer higher-resolution imagery, they operate according to US strategic objectives rather than South Korea’s interests. Additionally, the US sometimes refrains from sharing highly sensitive satellite photos with South Korea. Launching the spy satellite through SpaceX is more cost-effective and reliable than using a homegrown rocket.
North Korea also has aspirations of acquiring its own spy satellite. However, its two previous launch attempts this year ended in failure due to technical reasons. South Korea’s intelligence agency has suggested 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. North Korea seeks advanced weapons technologies from Russia to modernize its military capabilities and counter perceived US military threats.
South Korea aims to establish an independent and efficient surveillance system to closely monitor North Korea’s activities.