South Korea’s first spy satellite was launched into orbit Friday, in partnership with SpaceX.
The launch is part of Seoul’s efforts to ramp up reconnaissance capabilities as tensions flare with North Korea after Pyongyang launched its own satellite on Nov. 22. The South Korean government is hoping to launch another four satellites by 2025.
This project will make South Korea less reliant on the U.S. for space-based intelligence, given that “the U.S. does not share all the satellite images Koreans want,” one aerospace engineer in Korea told Bloomberg. Seoul’s independent satellites could also help it circumvent political changes in the U.S. that could impact intelligence sharing, Bloomberg reports. Former President Donald Trump famously threatened to withdraw US troops stationed in the country during his tenure, and it remains unclear how a second Trump administration would help Seoul in espionage.
The satellite race between the South and North could turn into “some kind of proxy tech war” that widens the divide between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea on one side, and China, Russia, and North Korea on the other, one Korean defense analyst told Time. Both Seoul and Pyongyang have much less experience in space technology, and as China and Russia help North Korea bolster its technological capabilities, the U.S. and Japan will have to step in and help the South counter the North’s actions. These countries can, in turn, use the Koreas’ satellites for their own purposes, like the U.S. using data from South Korea’s satellite to better surveil Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
“Now is the time for the two Koreas to regain their cool and seek an exit strategy,” argues a Korea Times editorial. Unlike previous administrations, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has “few other options” other than to “strike back” against an increasingly provocative North Korea, threatening to destabilize their border that has remained more or less undisturbed since a 2018 agreement. As Kim Jong-un favors the unstable global situation and hawks in both Koreas, along with international actors, want to fan the tensions between the North and South, “well-prepared doves must prevail again, replacing chickenhawks,” the editorial writes.