South Korea has announced plans to launch its first domestically built spy satellite at the end of this month in order to better monitor North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons program. 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. As part of a contract with SpaceX, South Korea aims to launch four more spy satellites by 2025.
Currently, South Korea relies on U.S. spy satellites for monitoring North Korea, as it does not possess any military reconnaissance satellites of its own. Acquiring its own spy satellites would give South Korea an independent space-based surveillance system, strengthening its defense against North Korea. Lee Choon Geun, a research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, emphasized that U.S. spy satellites operate under U.S. strategic objectives and sometimes do not share highly sensitive information with South Korea.
South Korea successfully launched its own satellite using homegrown technology last year. However, experts believe that further tests are needed to ensure the reliability of the rocket for launching the heavier spy satellite. Using SpaceX’s rocket from the Vandenberg base is also deemed more economical.
North Korea has been pursuing its own spy satellite program, but its previous launch attempts this year failed due to technical issues. The country had planned a third attempt in October but did not follow through. South Korea’s spy agency indicated that North Korea may be receiving technological assistance from Russia for its spy satellite program.
The possession of spy satellites is part of North Korea’s ambitious arms build-up plans, as announced by leader Kim Jong Un. Russia has been accused of providing weapons technologies to North Korea in exchange for military equipment for its war in Ukraine, although both countries deny these claims.
Despite the crude nature of North Korea’s satellite, experts believe it can still be militarily useful for identifying large targets like warships.