South Korea launches its second military spy satellite

South Korea has launched its second military spy satellite into space, days after North Korea reaffirmed its plan to launch multiple reconnaissance satellites this year.

The Koreas each launched their first spy satellites last year – North Korea in November and South Korea in December — amid heightened animosities. They said their satellites would boost their abilities to monitor each other and enhance their own missile attack capabilities.

South Korea’s second spy satellite was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday evening local time, which was Monday morning in Seoul.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the satellite was successfully separated from a rocket. It said it will check whether the satellite functions properly via its communications with an overseas ground station.

Under a contract with SpaceX, South Korea was to launch five spy satellites by 2025. South Korea’s first spy satellite launch on Dec. 1 was made from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.

South Korea in 2022 became the world’s 10th nation to successfully launch a satellite with its own technology by using a homegrown rocket to place what it called a “performance observation satellite” in orbit.

But experts say it’s economical to use a SpaceX rocket to launch spy satellite and that South Korea needs more launches to ensure the reliability of a rocket.

North Korea is also eager to acquire its own space-based surveillance network to cope with what it calls military threats posed by the United States and South Korea.

After two launch failures earlier in 2023, North Korea placed its Malligyong-1 spy satellite into orbit on Nov. 21. North Korea has since said its satellite had transmitted imagery with space views of key sites in the U.S. and South Korea, including the White House and the Pentagon.

But it hasn’t released any of those satellite photos, and foreign experts doubt whether the North Korean satellite can transmit militarily meaningful imagery.

On March 31, Pak Kyong Su, vice general director of the North’s National Aerospace Technology Administration, said North Korea is expected to launch several more reconnaissance satellites this year.

During a key political conference in late December, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to launch three additional military spy satellite in 2024.

The U.N. bans North Korea from conducting a satellite launch, considering it as a disguised test of its long-range missile technology.

The North’s November satellite launch deepened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with both Koreas taking steps to breach their 2018 agreement to lower down military tensions.

In recent years, North Korea has been engaged in a provocative run of missile tests to modernize and expand its weapons arsenals, prompting the U.S. and South Korea to strengthen their military drills in response.

Experts say North Korea likely believes that an enlarged weapons arsenals would increase its leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S.