| Arirang-5 satellite was successfully launched on the night of August 22. It is Korea뭩 first satellite loaded with synthetic aperture radar or SAR.
After successfully making its first communications with ground stations, the satellite`s orbits the earth 15 times a day at the altitude of 550 kilometers and passes the Korean Peninsula. SAR is a cutting-edge technology which can get images by using radio signals that penetrate clouds to the earth뭩 surface and reflect back to the device. It cannot take pictures immediately like an optical camera. It needs time to verify and correct the functions of the radar for at least more than six month from entering the orbit. If it functions properly and gets radar images a few months later, Korea will be the 10th nation with a radar satellite.
As Korea is surrounded by sea on three sides, it has seasonal weather changes and more than 60 percent of a year has clouds or sea fog. A radar satellite would serve as a watchman who can monitor North Korea뭩 moves and illegal fishing by Japanese or Chinese boats around the Korean peninsula around the clock regardless of weather conditions.
Many countries are sending a SAR satellite into a low earth orbit because camera satellites cannot cope with unpredictable natural disasters caused by global warming and unusual weather patterns.
Korea attempted to secure core SAR technology from other countries in the mid-1990s but the plan was suspended indefinitely due to the Asian financial crisis at the end of 1990s. The Arirang-5 satellite program managed to start in 2005, but it was delayed for about more than two years due to launch vehicle issues. Eventually, it was launched in eight years from the start of the program.
The payloads on Arirang-5 satellite are mostly developed by other countries due to the tight schedule. Now, Korea is preparing for Arirang-6 SAR satellite without securing technology for independent development due to the delayed launch of Arirang-5.
A satellite project can be largely categorized into satellites, payloads, launch vehicles, and ground stations. Satellite payloads are like electronic eyes. Korea has focused on the development of satellites which can carry payloads, and other countries provided payloads and launch vehicles.
Korea allocates a large sum of its budget for the development of Korean launch vehicles. It relies on other countries and has no independent development plan although satellite payloads determine the missions of a satellite and account for 50% of the entire satellite price. It bought infrared camera of Arirang-3A and maritime and meteorological payloads for other satellites following Communications, Ocean, and Meteorological Satellite (COMS) from other countries. It pays tremendous amount of money to other countries without a proper technology transfer.
If the national satellite development program does not include independent technological development of payloads, Korea may have a satellite but it will be only a qualified success.
Hopefully, Korea can make an efficient and balanced national space development program by investing in the development of payloads that determine the missions of a satellite and fostering experts based on its strong competitiveness in information and communications technology.