South Korea launches its first military satellite to spy on North Korea

South Korea successfully launched its first military satellite Tuesday as part of efforts to upgrade its defense capabilities against threats from North Korea.

The "Mugunghwa 5," also designed for commercial use, was launched from waters near Hawaii on Tuesday afternoon (8:27 p.m. Monday in Hawaii), carried by a rocket operated by private U.S. firm Sea Launch, the state-run Agency for Defense Development said in a statement.

The satellite is only for military and commercial communication purposes, not surveillance, the agency said.

Twelve of its 36 transponders will be used for military purposes and the others for commercial purposes.

The satellite will begin military service after about a year of testing, while its commercial service will begin in about four months, according to the agency and the nation's biggest communications firm KT Corp., which jointly conducted the satellite project, the AP reports.

South Korea faces the communist North across the world's most heavily fortified border. The two sides are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Seoul has been trying to bolster its defense capabilities to lessen its dependence on the United States. About 29,500 American troops remain stationed across South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea.