SpaceX is launching South Korea's first spy satellite in 2023

South Korea is preparing to lead its regional defense.
Brad Bergan
A Falcon 9 launching (left), and a satellite in low-Earth orbit (right).1, 2

Like it or not, the threat of conflict is rising.

This makes it necessary for key global players to build and maintain state-of-the-art intelligence infrastructure that can operate independently.

This is why South Korea will launch its first-ever homemade spy satellite in 2023 aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket by the end of 2023, with aims to install five in orbit by 2025, said officials in Seoul on Sunday, according to a local news source.

It appears allies of the U.S. in Asia are increasingly preparing to shoulder more of the responsibility in efforts of collaborative defense of the region.

South Korea aims to take a leadership role in its regional defense

The contracts with SpaceX were signed by the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute, in addition to its Agency for Defense Development — which means one of the firm CEO Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rockets will loft the country's first 1,763.7-lb satellite into orbit from the United States in 2023, with more launching from then until 2025.

This comes on the heels of Seoul's acquisition project in 2017, — called the "425 project" and worth $970 million, to upgrade reconnaissance capabilities, and minimize South Korea's reliance on the intelligence of allies like the U.S. But to do this, South Korea has long known it would have to launch military satellites — in fact, it launched the ANASIS-II atop a Falcon 9 in July 2020.

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A full suite of defense projects is needed for South Korea to assume wartime operational control from the U.S. — but when it does, it could lead the allied (Western) forces in any possible conflict in the region. This marks the second collaboration between South Korea and SpaceX on space-based military procedures, according to Space News.

Included in Seoul's defense project are plans to run four synthetic aperture radar instruments — each of which employs electro-optical infrared detectors, in addition to radio waves, according to the report.

Once such satellites are operational, South Korea's general defense system — along with its capacity to track and monitor the military deployments and movements of North Korea. South Korea's efforts to expand its military capabilities are inextricably linked to space, which it test-fired a solid-fuel rocket in March.

South Korea continues to develop aerospace and military capabilities

This rocket was built to lift small satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO), for further surveillance operations. And, in October of 2021, South Korea came within reach of LEO when it successfully launched its first homegrown space rocket — the KSLV-II Nuri — with the aims to place a dummy satellite in space.

Sadly and despite the successful test launch, the dummy satellite didn't make it into LEO, but the Nuri rocket emblazoned with the national flag did reach the stratosphere after launching from the Naro Space Center at 4:00 AM EST. "Unfortunately, we did not fully reach our goal," said South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, in a Reuters report

But the President also said more efforts would be made in the near future: "It's not long before we'll be able to launch it exactly into the target trajectory," added Moon. "The 'Korea Space Age' is approaching." The issue with South Korea's rocket involved its final stage shutting down 40 to 50 seconds early, preventing the dummy satellite from achieving sufficient velocity for orbit.

South Korea will continue developing its aerospace capabilities, but until it does, launches like the forthcoming SpaceX one in 2023, along with several others by 2025, will accelerate the nation's defense architecture — which is crucial as tensions between the China and Russia on one hand, and the U.S. and its allies on the other, continue to mount.

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