South Korea Aerospace Research Institute and Agency for Defense Development selected SpaceX to launch a military surveillance satellite constellation. They signed a multi-launch agreement to launch five satellites over the next three years. The first satellite is scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket in 2023, the rest will be deployed by 2025.
According to a South Korean news report, it will be the first time South Korea launches a spy satellite developed and manufactured by the country. Four of the satellites feature synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology and one is equipped with an electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) telescope. The surveillance satellites are part of South Korea's ministry of defense "425 Project" to monitor North Korea military activities led by dictator Kim Jong-Un, who has a nuclear arsenal. Amid the Russia invasion of Ukraine, it is critical for South Korea to have the right tools to monitor North Korea operations with Earth-observation technology. Intelligence authorities depend on ultra-high-resolution images from advanced reconnaissance satellites shared by the United States military. Satellites have proven to be useful to collect data and monitor adversaries activities. For example, the United States alerted Ukraine when its satellites captured photos of Russia's army setting up camps near the country's borders before their aggressive invasion.
The first 425 Project satellite that will be launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 weighs 800-kilograms and will be capable of spying on Korean military facilities every 2 hours with 30-50 centimeters resolution from an operational orbit of 600 to 700-kilometers above Earth.
It is not the first time South Korea purchases SpaceX's launch services; the country launched its first communication satellite, called ANASIS-II, atop a Falcon 9 in 2020 from the U.S. Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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