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South Korea taps Elon Musk to match the North’s web of spy satellite

The South Korean launch  follows last week's deployment by North Korea of its own orbital spy network.

The South Korean launch follows last week's deployment by North Korea of its own orbital spy network. Photo: AFP

South Korea has turned to Elon Musk to answer North Korea’s expanding network of spy satellites.

One of the billionaire’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets lifted South Korea’s first spy satellite into orbit from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base after North Korea successfully launched its own military reconnaissance satellite last month.

The latest satellite was placed into orbit just over an hour after launch “successfully established communication with an overseas ground station,” South Korea’s defence ministry said on Friday.

The launch comes amid North Korea’s boast that its satellites are observing “target regions” that include the White House and Pentagon plus US bases in South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii.

SpaceX ended its livestream of the mission minutes after the rocket’s liftoff and recovery of its core stage booster without disclosing details of the South Korean payload’s orbital deployment.

Pyongyang’s  failures

In May, South Korea used its own domestically produced Nuri launch vehicle to place a mission-capable satellite into orbit for the first time, but it has contracted with the American company SpaceX to launch a total of five spy satellites by 2025 in an effort to accelerate its goal of having 24-hour watch over the Korean peninsula.

The satellite launched on Friday is an electro-optical and infra-red device, while the four following satellites are due to feature synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which can “see” through cloud cover and at night.

South Korea has relied on its American allies for satellite intelligence, but is planning an array of reconnaissance and military communications satellites as part of a broader push into space.

After two earlier attempts ended in rocket crashes this year, North Korea used its Chollima-1 launch vehicle to place the Malligyong-1 reconnaissance satellite in orbit.

Pyongyang has yet to release any imagery from that satellite, and analysts say its full capabilities are unknown.

North Korean state media says the craft has already photographed a range of “target regions” ranging from the White House and Pentagon to US military bases in South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii, and the South Korean capital, Seoul.

-with AAP

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