On Wednesday, 30th March, 2022, South Korea conducted its first successful launch of a solid-fuel rocket. The launch has been described as a major development in its push to acquire space surveillance capability as animosities with rival North Korea rise.
The launch came just six days after North Korea carried out its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017. Hostilities between pro-Russia North and Pro-US South Korea have remained unresolved for decades.
The South Korean-built solid-propellant rocket soared into the sky before releasing a dummy satellite in space, according to photos released by Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
Though South Korea has no nuclear weapons and it’s under the protection of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” which guarantees a devastating American response in the event of an attack on its ally.
In recent years South Korea has been investing heavily on armament in order to checkmate possible North Korea’s nuclear threats. South Korea has been building and purchasing powerful conventional missiles, stealth fighter jets and other high-tech weapons systems.
South Korea’s domestically built solid-propellant rocket was launched from a state-run testing facility with the presence of Defense Minister Suh Wook and other senior officials, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
It said solid-fuel rockets have simpler structures and are cheaper to develop and manufacture than liquid-fuel rockets. It said solid-fuel rockets also reduce launch times. The statement said South Korea will soon launch a spy satellite into orbit aboard a solid-fuel rocket.
South Korea currently has no military reconnaissance satellite of its own and depends on U.S. spy satellites to monitor strategic facilities in North Korea. In 2020, South Korea secured the permission of the US to use solid fuel for space launch vehicles, a restriction that Washington had previously imposed on South Korea, because of concerns that its use could lead to building bigger missiles and trigger a regional arms race.
Also, in 2021, the United States lifted other remaining restrictions to allow South Korea to develop missiles with unlimited ranges. South Korea had agreed on the restrictions in 1979 in return for receiving missile technology from the U.S.
Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said development of the solid-fuel rocket would also contribute to improving South Korea’s missile technology, as ballistic missiles and rockets used in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology.
Lee said solid-fuel rockets are typically used to launch small satellites because they have weaker thrust force than similar-sized liquid-fuel rockets. He said bigger satellites can carry larger cameras that produce higher-resolution imagery.
Last year, South Korea’s first domestically produced liquid-fuel space rocket reached its desired altitude but failed to deliver a dummy payload into orbit in its first test launch.
North Korea’s launch of an ICBM last Thursday, broke its self-imposed moratorium on big weapons tests and violated multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war has altered geostrategic world order. In the emerging multipolar world order, countries would increase their military budget in order to checkmate unprovoked aggression from belligerent States. The Latin expression “if you want peace, prepare for war” aptly captures the emerging new world order.
Ajao is a Lagos-based Global Affairs Analyst, for comments kindly follow him Twitter: @OlusojiAjao