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South Korea is set to launch its first commercial-grade satellite at the end of May 2023, while North Korea is pushing to launch its first military spy satellite. The South Korean satellite is set to launch under the country’s space development program, and Seoul officials state it has no military purpose. Nevertheless, many experts say this launch will eventually help South Korea get tech and knowledge to advance and operate military surveillance satellites and powerful missiles.
According to AP news, the rocket set to launch has on board the main satellite “Next Generation Small Satellite 2,” and seven other smaller cube-shaped satellites. A ministry statement said the main satellite is tasked with verifying imaging radar technology and observing cosmic radiation in near-Earth orbit.
This launch is not South Korea’s first attempt, as last year it put a so-called “performance verification satellite” into orbit, possibly launched to examine the rocket itself, the Nuri rocket. South Korea is now the 10th nation to send a satellite into space with its own technology.
A possible catalyst for the launch is the growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. At the beginning of May 2023, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un examined a finished military spy satellite and approved an unspecified action plan for launch. Following the news of the new North Korean satellite, some experts remarked that from what was shown in the media, the satellite does not appear sophisticated enough to provide a meaningful boost to the country’s surveillance capabilities.
Nevertheless, Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, predicted that North Korea is likely to try and send more satellites into space, and said “With three to five satellites, North Korea can have an almost real-time monitoring on the Korean Peninsula.”
Currently, South Korea has no military reconnaissance satellites of its own and entirely depends on U.S. spy satellites to monitor strategic sites in North Korea. Therefore, South Korea plans to launch its own surveillance satellite soon.