South Korea successfully tested its first home-produced solid fuel rocket Wednesday, the country’s military said, in a boost to its space-based defense capabilities just days after North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The South Korean rocket was fired from a site in Taean, about 93 miles southwest of Seoul, the defense ministry said in a statement. Accompanying photos showed it launching a test payload into space.
In the future, the rocket will be used to place a small satellite into low Earth orbit for surveillance operations, the ministry said.
The successful launch of the test vehicle marked an “important milestone” in strengthening South Korea’s space-based surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, the ministry added.
South Korea has no military satellites of its own in orbit and relies on satellite images provided by the United States.
Seoul had been prohibited from developing solid fuel under a 1979 agreement with the United States that limited South Korean missile and rocket activities over concerns of an arms race in the region.
In 2020, the countries agreed to new guidelines that allowed South Korea to use solid fuels for space launch vehicles. Last May, U.S. officials agreed to lift all remaining restrictions on missile development.
Wednesday’s rocket launch comes “at a very critical time in which North Korea recently ended its moratorium and launched an ICBM,” the defense ministry said.
Last week, North Korea fired its first ICBM since 2017, sending it into the sea less than 100 miles from the coast of Japan.
Pyongyang claimed that the missile was its new Hwasong-17, which analysts believe may be capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, but South Korean defense officials said that North Korea actually launched the older Hwasong-15.