S.Korea to Launch Homegrown Spy Satellites

      April 11, 2022 13:11

      South Korea is planning to launch its first homegrown military surveillance satellite in late 2023, according to the military Sunday.

      The spy satellite is the key element in a "kill chain" to detect North Korean preparations for a nuclear or missile attack in advance and take preemptive action before it is launched. It will be launched by a rocket from SpaceX, Elon Musk's commercial space company.

      In 2020, South Korea also launched a military communications satellite atop a SpaceX rocket. 

      A SpaceX rocket that will carry Korean spy satellites /Courtesy of SpaceX

      According to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, five military surveillance satellites will be launch on Falcon 9 rockets under a project for South Korea to achieve a little more independence from the U.S. in military surveillance.

      SpaceX was chosen in a public bid last year. The five 800-kg spy satellites will be put into orbit by 2025, beginning with the first launch from the U.S. mainland late next year.

      The project has a budget of about W1.22 trillion (US$1=W1,229). It was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2013 but did not get underway until four years later.

      Once the five satellites are up and running, Seoul can gather intelligence on major facilities in the North including missile bases and nuclear test sites every two hours.

      At the moment it has to rely on the U.S. and other countries for most of its satellite intelligence about the North.

      DAPA was keen to emphasize that it did not pick SpaceX to be fashionable. "We held an international bid because a large 800-kg spy satellite is too heavy for our own space launch vehicle Nuri, which is currently at the test stage," a DAPA spokesman said. "The price offered by SpaceX based on a recycled rocket was highly competitive." 

      Once the five satellites are launched, South Korea needs to launch several mini satellites to complement them. A large satellite can shoot images for only three to four minutes each time it flies over North Korea at intervals of two hours, and DAPA wants to plug these gaps.

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