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Russian-Ukrainian booster delivers South Korean satellite

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Mar 26, 2015, 15:38 UTC

Sen—In a midst of a military standoff between Russia and Ukraine, rocketeers from two former Soviet republics joined forces to fire the world's largest ballistic missile on a commercial mission to deliver a South Korean Earth-watching satellite.

The Dnepr booster, converted from the Soviet-era R-36M UTTKh missile, known in the West as Satan, lifted off at 22:08 UTC on Wednesday (03:08 local time on Thursday).

Like its doomsday cousins, the rocket emerged from an underground silo, designed to withstand a nuclear attack, near the town of Dombarovsky on the grasslands-covered Russian border with Kazakhstan.

According to a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense quoted by the official Russian media, the launch had proceeded as scheduled.

Around an hour after the launch, the Russian-Ukrainian joint venture Kosmotras, which manages Dnepr missions, also confirmed that the rocket had successfully delivered its payload into orbit.

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Diagram of Kompsat-3A

Replacing nuclear warheads on board the missile was the latest Korean multi-purpose satellite, Kompsat-3A, also known as Arirang-3A in the native tongue. The state-of-the-art spacecraft will join a fleet of South Korean satellites carrying optical telescopes and imaging radar and designed to photograph the Earth's surface in all-weather conditions.

In development since December 2006, Kompsat-3A adds an infrared camera to the South Korean arsenal of orbital sensors. The Advanced Electronic Image Scanning System, AEISS-A, was built for Kompsat-3A by the European consortium Airbus Defense and Space. The instrument will be able to capture details as small as half a metre on its panchromatic photos and discern objects up to 5.5 metres in size on its infrared images. In addition, multi-spectral pictures should be available with a resolution of 2.2 metres.

With KompSat-3A, South Korea hopes to make inroads in a very exclusive and highly competitive field of commercial satellite imagery.

Although the satellite was developed by the government-funded Korean Aerospace Research Institute, KARI, the private sector was called upon to market its images inside Korea and around the world.

According to KARI, temperature-sensitive infra-red sensors onboard KompSat-3A can be especially useful for monitoring forest fires, volcanic activity and other natural disasters around the world.

Like most remote-sensing satellites, KompSat-3A was inserted into the so-called Syn-synchronous orbit 528 kilometers above Earth's surface and extending from pole to pole. As the Earth rotates below the satellite, its ground track envelopes the entire planet, enabling onboard sensors to compile a global picture of the planet. As a result, the satellite's owners can fulfill orders from around the world.

The KompSat fleet also gives burgeoning high-tech industry in South Korea a unique know-how in assembling and managing sophisticated spacecraft.