South Korea became the newest member of the club of nations with their own high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite with the July 28 launch of its Kompsat-2 satellite aboard a Rockot vehicle from northern Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Kompsat-2, known in Korea as Arirang-2, carries an optical imager capable of detecting objects 1 meter in diameter in black-and-white mode. It also is equipped with a multispectral instrument with 4-meter resolution. It follows Korea’s Kompsat-1 satellite, launched in 1999, which has a 6.6-meter ground resolution.

“We have acquired the satellite from our ground stations and everything looks good,” Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) President Hong-Yul Paik said in a telephone interview from the Plesetsk launch site. “The plan now is to check out the various systems and we hope to be operational in two months.”

The launch marked the return to operations for Eurockot Launch Services GmbH of Bremen, Germany, a German-Russian joint venture company that markets the Rockot vehicle for commercial use.

The vehicle failed in its October 2005 launch of Europe’s Cryosat satellite and has been grounded since then. Rockot prime contractor Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow and a board of inquiry concluded that a programming error was the root cause of the failure. It was the first orbital launch failure in seven attempts for the converted SS-19 ballistic missile.

“We’re back in business and we are certainly going to be going after new contracts, including work with KARI,” Eurockot Sales Director Peter Freeborn said in an interview after the launch. “Our next currently scheduled flight is in the second half of 2007, and will be the Goce scientific satellite for the European Space Agency.”

Kompsat-2, budgeted at about $200 million including launch, was built for KARI using a design similar to the Kompsat-1 satellite and an optical imager provided by Israel’s Elop Electro-Optics Industries Ltd. EADS Astrium of France also provided technical expertise for the satellite as part of a cooperative agreement.

The 798-kilogram Kompsat-2 will operate from a sun-synchronous orbit at 685 kilometers in altitude. Spot Image of Toulouse, France, has secured rights to market Kompsat-2 imagery and says that fusing color and black-and-white images from the satellite creates a blended image with a 1-meter ground resolution.

KARI has a detailed long-term space development program that includes two more Earth observation satellites already in its budget . The Kompsat-5 satellite will carry a synthetic-aperture radar imager provided by Alcatel Alenia Space of France and Italy and is scheduled for launch in 2008.

KARI’s Paik said the radar imager on Kompsat-5 will have a ground resolution of between 1 meter and 3 meters.

Kompsat-3, which will carry an optical imager and will be similar to Kompsat-2, is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2009. Paik said EADS Astrium of Europe will be providing technical input for this program.

Paik said KARI, whose budget has been growing in recent years, has a 2006 budget of about $320 million, “and this figure will grow next year.”

Kompsat-2 is billed as a commercial and environmental monitoring satellite, but given its camera capability is has clear strategic use for South Korea. Seoul’s ambition to become a space power is scheduled to advance further in late August with the launch of the Koreasat-5 civil/military telecommunications satellite aboard a Sea Launch vehicle.