South Korean Mapping Satellite Reaches Orbit

South Korea’s space program achieved another milestone yesterday with the launch of the first Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) in a planned series of five vehicles. A second-generation Russian Soyuz 2.1a lifted the Korean-made CAS500-1 from historic Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan and successfully placed it into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit, inclined by 97.7 degrees or 15 orbits/day. Living up to its reputation as a workhorse, the Soyuz then proceeded to deposit multiple other satellites into 600 km and 550 km orbits. The satellite is pretty substantial, being 2.9 m tall and 1.9 m diameter and topping the scales at 500 kg. (Don’t be confused, like we were, by this Wikipedia article that says it is a 1.3 kg CubeSat.)

South Korea already has over a dozen satellites in orbit, and the CAS500 adds a modular space platform to the mix. It was designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to provide a core backbone which can be easily adapted to other missions, not unlike a car manufacturer that sells several different models all based on the same underlying chassis. Another down-to-earth goal of the CAS500 program was to foster the transfer of core technologies from state-owned KARI to private industry. We wonder how such figures are calculated, but reportedly 91.3% of CAS500-1 was made in Korea. Subsequent flights will further involve local services and industry.

The purpose of the first two satellites is to provide images to the private sector, for example, online mapping and navigation platforms. How popular this will be is yet to be determined — as one local newspaper notes, the 2 meter image resolution (50 cm in monochrome) pales in comparison to Google’s advertised 15 cm resolution. The next three satellites will focus on space science imagery.

The Soyuz launch is shown below, and this short video clip from KARI shows a nice animation of the satellite. Try not to cringe at the simulated whooshing sound as two satellites pass each other in the vacuum of space — turn down the volume if you need to.

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