Geopolitics in Check as Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr Rocket Lofts South Korean Satellite

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PARIS – South Korea’s Kompsat-3A/Arirang-3A high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite on March 25 was successfully placed into low Earth orbit by a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket operated from Russia’s Yasny spaceport.

Kosmotras of Moscow, the launch-service provider, and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, KARI, said the satellite was in its intended orbit, and was sending signals. Liftoff occurred at 6:08 p.m. EDT.

The launch, which had been delayed because of Dnepr availability, is the latest sign that despite the year-long hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, cooperative efforts that generate hard currency, such as Denpr, are being maintained despite occasional statements to the contrary in Russia.

Iridium Communications of the United States, a commercial mobile satellite services provider, is counting on Dnepr to launch the first two satellites of the company’s Iridium Next second-generation constellation to perform in-orbit system checkout before proceeding with launches carrying 10 satellites each. Iridium’s Dnepr launch is scheduled for October.

For KARI, which maintains one of the world’s most sophisticated Earth observation satellite development programs featuring optical and radar platforms, it was the second Dnepr launch in less than two years, following the August 2013 launch of the Kompsat-5/Arirang-5 radar satellite.

The 1,000-kilogram Kompsat-3A, carrying a focal plane array built by Airbus Defence and Space’s German division with the support of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, is nearly identical to the Kompsat-3/Arirang-3 satellite launched in 2012. Its primary sensor is capable of detecting objects as small as 1 meter in diameter.

Kompsat-3A also carries an infrared imager.

Both Kompsat-3 satelites operate from about 528 kilometers in polar low Earth orbit, with design lives of about four years.