Friday's rocket test will help Korea put spy satellites into space

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Friday's rocket test will help Korea put spy satellites into space

Images of a test flight of a solid-fuel space vehicle from the Anheung test facility in Taean County, South Chungcheong, last Friday, released by the Defense Ministry on Monday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

Images of a test flight of a solid-fuel space vehicle from the Anheung test facility in Taean County, South Chungcheong, last Friday, released by the Defense Ministry on Monday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

 
The Ministry of National Defense announced Monday plans to develop its space-based reconnaissance capabilities following the successful test of a solid-fuel space vehicle last Friday.  
 
The ministry said the test showed solid progress from the first one conducted nine months earlier.  
 
"Korea's success in the second test flight of its solid-fuel space vehicle is an important milestone in laying the groundwork for the building up of our military's independent space force," the ministry said in a statement, "and a step forward to becoming the seventh largest space power."
 
It said it plans to put small-sized satellites into low Earth orbit within the next several years, which will enhance the country's space-based surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
 
The ministry also released a short video of Friday's launch.  
 
The ministry confirmed that the state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) had successfully conducted engine combustion tests of the second, third and fourth-stage rockets of the four-stage vehicle. 
 
It also verified the propellant combustion, fairing separation, rocket separation, upper-stage rocket attitude control and the separation of a dummy satellite.
 
The projectile reached an altitude of 450 kilometers.
 
The space vehicle uses solid fuel for the first three rockets and a liquid fuel for the fourth stage to move the satellite to the correct position after entering orbit.
 
Solid-fuel space rockets are simpler and more cost-effective to launch compared to liquid-fuel engines.
 
The first test of Korea's domestically-developed solid-fuel rocket was performed at a testing site in Taean, South Chungcheong, last March 30 as part of a project to develop civilian and military surveillance satellites. That test was only for the second-stage rocket.
 
The first-stage engine, which was excluded from the first and second tests, is still being designed.  
 
The ministry said that Korea plans to launch a 500 kilogram synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite at a low Earth orbit of 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 2025. Such space-based reconnaissance and surveillance operations technology would allow South Korea to monitor North Korea's military activities in nearly real-time.  
 
The ministry has stressed that space rocket technologies can be taken over by the private sector in the future.  
 
The military recognizes that space "will become a key area that has a significant impact on national security," the ministry added.  
 
A defense official admitted that the success of the first and second solid-fuel tests might alarm neighboring countries such as North Korea, China and Japan.
 
While solid-fuel space launch vehicles and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have different uses, many technologies overlap.
 
On Friday evening, the Defense Ministry acknowledged the test only after photos of an unidentified projectile were posted to social media by alarmed residents of southern regions. The photos of the rainbow-colored contrail and mushrooming flare of light raised speculation about a UFO sighting or North Korean drones or missiles.  
 
The ministry apologized for not informing the public in advance and confirmed that the ADD had carried out the test.
 
On Monday, the Defense Ministry said that "in order to secure maritime and flight route safety, minimize disruption to fishermen's operations and comprehensively consider the weather condition, we ended up testing it when it was dark."    
 
The strange lights were due to the "twilight phenomenon," in which sunlight is reflected on the rocket exhaust.  
 
This test came after Pyongyang claimed on Dec. 15 to have tested a "high-thrust solid-fuel" rocket motor to use in a "new-type strategic weapon system."
 
Pyongyang said it successfully tested a high-thrust solid-fuel engine with a thrust of 140 ton force, the first for North Korea. Experts said the North could be aiming to developing a new solid-fueled ICBM.  
 
In May 2021, Seoul and Washington agreed to end restrictions prohibiting South Korea from developing or possessing ballistic missiles with a range greater than 800 kilometers.
 
The Defense Ministry on Monday releases an image of a test flight of solid-fuel space vehicle from the Anheung test facility in Taean County, South Chungcheong, last Friday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

The Defense Ministry on Monday releases an image of a test flight of solid-fuel space vehicle from the Anheung test facility in Taean County, South Chungcheong, last Friday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]


BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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