South Korea made contact with its first satellite, launched by a civilian space rocket seven weeks after North Korea sent its own satellite into orbit and amid signs the North’s regime is preparing a nuclear test.
The satellite transmitted information to the Satellite Technology Research Center for about 15 minutes from 3:28 a.m., Professor Lee In, head of the research center, said in a televised briefing today. Yesterday’s launch of the 33-meter (108-feet) KSLV-I Naro rocket, built using domestic and Russian technology, came after two failed attempts since 2009.
South Korea has spent about $500 million on the project, chasing a toehold in the space services market estimated to provide a 5.5 trillion won ($5 billion) boost to the economy. North Korea is threatening to conduct its third nuclear test in response to tighter United Nations sanctions imposed after its own long-range rocket launch last month.
“South Korea’s Naro rocket launch won’t be a threat to the North but will give it an opportunity to criticize the United Nations Security Council for what it sees as double standards, pointing out that the South is permitted to launch satellites when the North is banned,” Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said before the launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has maintained the military-first policy he inherited from his father Kim Jong Il over a year ago. On Jan. 24 his regime threatened to detonate an atomic device after the Security Council passed the resolution, and two days later he vowed “high-profile” retaliation against the U.S. and its allies.
The Punggye-ri nuclear site about 370 kilometers northeast of Pyongyang, where North Korea conducted its previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, may be in a continued state of readiness, according to the 38 North website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where recent satellite photos were analyzed. Analysis of the area was based upon imagery taken Jan. 23 and compared with previous images, it said.
“Snowfall and subsequent clearing operations as well as tracks in the snow reveal ongoing activity at buildings and on roadways near the possible test tunnel,” 38 North said.
North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test “at any time,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters in Seoul earlier this week. The totalitarian state may also seek other ways to provoke the international community even without a nuclear test, he said.
Kim’s regime has enough weaponized plutonium for as many as eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea’s atomic uranium-enrichment and other facilities in 2010.
A successful Naro launch would bring South Korea economic benefits of as much as 5.5 trillion won by 2020 from higher value-added exports and a share of the global space-services market, Hyundai Research Institute said in a report on Jan. 28.
“The success is proof that South Korea has the technology and the resources to launch a space rocket, which will lead to invigorating the space industry,” Kim Gwang-Suk, senior researcher at Hyundai Research Institute said by phone today. “Specifically, we can expect growth in manufacturing of rocket related parts and materials, and in technologies related to satellite development.”
During Naro’s previous launch in June 2010, contact with the rocket, which is presumed to have blown up, was lost within minutes of liftoff. On the first attempt in August 2009, a protective cover failed to properly separate from the satellite, causing it to overshoot its planned altitude. The third attempt to launch the Naro was canceled twice last year because of technical issues.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute is leading the project, in collaboration with over 150 South Korean companies, including Korean Air Lines Co., Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. and Doosan Infracore Co., the agency said on its website.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Japan’s space agency successfully launched two information-gathering satellites on Jan. 27, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a statement. The U.S. on the same day tested a three-stage ground-based missile interceptor, the Missile Defense Agency said in an e-mailed statement.