Nara Space has successfully launched the Observer-1A, a self-developed commercial cube satellite, becoming the first Korean company to achieve the feat, opening a new chapter for the country’s private space industry.
Nara Space said Monday that the Observer-1A's beacon transmission and bidirectional communication had been completed within about an hour and 20 minutes after its ejection from SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The satellite was loaded on the US company’s launch vehicle, which blasted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Santa Barbara County, California on Sunday.
Of the 113 satellites that were on the Falcon 9 and released into orbit, Nara Space pointed out that the Observer-1A made the earliest data transmission.
According to Nara Space, the cube satellite will undergo a testing period of about a month to stabilize its position in orbit and its check operation systems before taking videos of the Earth.
Weighing 24 kilograms, the Observer-1A has a height of 40 centimeters, a width of 20 cm and a depth of 20 cm, equaling 16U in size -- about the size of an ordinary microwave. U stands for 10 cubic centimeters in terms of satellite measuring units.
The cube satellite orbits the Earth every 90 minutes. As a result, it passes over the skies of Korea two to four times a day. Equipped with an optical camera, the Observer-1A is capable of identifying objects with a width of 1.5 meters or longer from 525 kilometers above the ground. Using Nara Space’s artificial intelligence technology, the satellite images’ resolution can be enhanced to identify objects with a width of 0.5 m. In other words, the satellite can distinguish small vehicles on the roads.
“With the successful reception of the Observer’s signals, we secured space heritage, a successful launch experience, which is the most important thing in space development,” said Park Jae-pil, CEO of Nara Space.
“We will do our best to ensure that the Observer safety settles in space and carries out its missions.”
Korean-made cube satellites have made it to orbit, but such instances were developed using foreign-developed satellite platforms and loading only payloads onto them. Even those satellites could not produce images with high enough resolutions for commercial use. The Observer-1A was developed by Nara Space from the beginning and over 60 percent of the satellite parts were made by the Korean startup.
Nara Space plans to launch the Observer-1B, a twin satellite of the Observer-1A, in the first half of next year. After that, the company also looks to launch BusanSat, a nanosatellite designed to measure fine dust in the sea atmosphere with a polarimetric camera, which is being co-developed with the city of Busan. The goal is to operate 100 or more satellites in the next five years.
“It took three years to develop the Observer, but it only takes a week to develop the same satellite,” said Park.
“We will continue launching satellites to grow into the world’s No. 1 in the cube satellite sector.”