Dnepr Rocket Launches S. Korean Radar Satellite

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SALT LAKE CITY — South Korea on Aug. 22 added radar to its existing optical Earth observation satellite capacity when its Kompsat-5/Arirang-5 X-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) spacecraft was placed into low Earth orbit.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said Aug. 23 that the satellite was healthy in orbit and communicating with ground stations, and that its solar arrays had deployed. 

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, which built the SAR instrument, said the X-band transmission antennas had deployed and that the payload would be activated Sept. 3, with commissioning and calibration to occur in September and October.

The launch was aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr silo-launched vehicle operated from Russia’s Yasny spaceport. The launch, which was Dnepr’s first since 2011, had been delayed for months as Russian and Ukrainian authorities, including Russia’s Ministry of Defense, disputed Dnepr’s financing and operations.

The rocket, a converted SS-18 ballistic missile, launched 17 times between 1999 and 2011 before being grounded until the Kompsat-5 launch. Its future availability for commercial space launches remains unclear. Dnepr launches are managed by ISC Kosmotras of Moscow and carried out by the Russian Defense Ministry’s Strategic Rocket Forces.

Weighing 1,400 kilograms at launch, Kompsat-5/Arirang-5’s satellite structure, or bus, was built in Korea for KARI, the national space agency.The satellite is expected to operate for at least five years in a 550-kilometer polar low Earth orbit. Its radar instrument is able to collect data with a ground-sampling distance of 1, 3 and 20 meters, meaning it can detect objects of those diameter and larger.

Massimo Di Lazzaro, Thales Alenia Space’s executive vice president for observation, exploration and navigation, said in an Aug. 22 statement that the radar instrument borrows from the company’s previous work on Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed radar constellation.

Kompsat-5 is the latest in a series of Korea Multipurpose Satellite models that have been in orbit since 1999 and are operated by KARI. Kompsat-2/Arirang-2 was launched in 2006 and Kompsat-3/Arirang-3 was launched in 2012. KARI’s Kompsat-3A infrared and optical imaging satellite is scheduled for launch in 2014.