South Korea puts second military spy satellite successfully into orbit

Seoul and Pyongyang are in a race to put more reconnaissance satellites into orbit amid rising tensions on the peninsula.

The spy satellite taking off on a SpaceX rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There's lots of smoke left behind.
South Korea's second military spy satellite lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida [South Korea Defence Ministry via AP]

South Korea has successfully launched its second military reconnaissance satellite, days after North Korea reiterated its intention to launch multiple spy satellites this year.

The satellite entered orbit after its launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the United States on Sunday, South Korea’s National Ministry of Defense said.

Seoul’s military said in a statement that its “independent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have been further strengthened” by the successful launch.

“We will proceed with future satellite launches without a hitch,” it added.

The Falcon 9 rocket was launched at 23:17 GMT and the satellite successfully separated from the launch vehicle 45 minutes later and entered its targeted orbit, according to the statement.

It made successful communications with a ground station about two hours and 40 minutes after the launch, the ministry added.

South Korea, which plans to launch a total of five military spy satellites by 2025, is in a race with North Korea to expand its surveillance capabilities amid rising tension on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang launched its first spy satellite – Malligyong-1 – in November last year in its third attempt, while South Korea put its satellite into orbit the following month.

North Korea has since said its satellite had transmitted imagery of key sites in the US, including the White House and the Pentagon, but has not released any of the photos.

On March 31, Pak Kyong Su, the vice general director of North Korea’s National Aerospace Technology Administration, said the country expected to launch several more reconnaissance satellites this year. Leader Kim Jong Un has previously said he aimed to put three more military spy satellites into space in 2024.

South Korean Defence Minister Shin Wonsik said on Monday that the first of those launches could take place as soon as next week – to mark the April 15 birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung. The holiday, known as the  Day of the Sun, is typically marked with mass ceremonies and military parades.

North Korean satellite launches are seen as a violation of United Nations sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme because they make use of banned ballistic missile technology.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies