SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea’s recent endeavor to place its inaugural spy satellite into orbit was met with disappointment as the mission failed on Wednesday. This setback poses a challenge to leader Kim Jong Un’s ambitions of bolstering the country’s military capabilities, particularly amidst escalating tensions with the United States and South Korea.
In an unexpected turn of events, North Korea promptly acknowledged the failure and expressed its intention to conduct a second launch once the cause of the initial failure has been identified. This determination highlights Kim’s steadfast commitment to expanding North Korea’s arsenal and exerting pressure on Washington and Seoul, especially in the absence of progress in diplomatic negotiations.
Following the launch, South Korea and Japan issued temporary advisories urging residents in certain areas to seek shelter as a precautionary measure. The South Korean military has initiated salvage operations to recover the wreckage of the rocket, which is believed to have crashed into waters approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the southwestern island of Eocheongdo. The Defense Ministry also released photos of a suspected rocket part—a white, metal cylinder.
It is important to note that North Korea’s satellite launch violates U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit the country from engaging in launches involving ballistic technology. Observers suggest that North Korea’s previous satellite launches have contributed to advancements in its long-range missile technology. While recent long-range missile tests have demonstrated the potential to reach the entire continental U.S., experts outside of North Korea believe that the country still has work to do in developing fully operational nuclear missiles.
The failed launch involved the newly developed Chollima-1 rocket, which took place at 6:37 a.m. local time from the North’s Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in the northwest. The rocket, carrying the Malligyong-1 satellite, experienced a loss of thrust after the separation of its first and second stages, resulting in its crash into the sea off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
South Korea’s military described the rocket’s flight as “abnormal” before its descent into the water, while Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno stated that no object was believed to have reached space.
North Korean media announced that the country’s space agency would investigate the “serious defects revealed” by the launch and conduct a second launch at the earliest opportunity.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, commented, “It is notable that the North Korean regime admitted failure, but it will be challenging to conceal the satellite launch failure on the international stage. Domestically, the regime is likely to present a different narrative. Moreover, this outcome suggests that Pyongyang may soon initiate another provocation, partly to compensate for today’s setback.”
Adam Hodge, a spokesperson at the U.S. National Security Council, issued a statement strongly condemning North Korea’s launch. Hodge emphasized that the use of banned ballistic missile technology raised tensions and posed a risk to regional and international security.
While the U.N. previously imposed economic sanctions on North Korea for its satellite and ballistic missile launches, recent attempts to strengthen the sanctions have been blocked by China and Russia—permanent Security Council members embroiled in conflicts with the U.S.
Seoul’s military has heightened its readiness in coordination with the United States, and Japan has stated its preparedness to respond to any emergency. The U.S. has committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland, as well as the defense of South Korea and Japan.
Following the launch detection, the South Korean government dispatched cellphone text messages advising residents of a front-line island off the west coast to move to safer locations.
the South Korean government initially sent cellphone text messages urging residents of a front-line island to move to safer places. Similarly, officials in Seoul issued similar phone messages to city residents, but the country’s Interior and Safety Ministry later clarified that the alerts sent to Seoul were sent in error. The mayor of Seoul apologized for any confusion caused by the incident.
In response to the potential threat, Japan activated its missile warning system for Okinawa prefecture, which was along the suspected path of the rocket. The Japanese alert instructed residents to evacuate into buildings or underground for safety.
The specific details of the rocket and the satellite were not provided by the North Korean state media, except for their names. However, experts had previously predicted that North Korea would likely employ a liquid-fueled rocket, similar to most of its previously tested long-range rockets and missiles.
The North’s National Aerospace Development Administration attributed the failure to “the low reliability and stability of the new-type engine system applied to (the) carrier rocket” and “the unstable character of the fuel,” as reported by KCNA, the North Korean news agency.
Prior to the launch, Ri Pyong Chol, a high-ranking North Korean official, had emphasized the country’s need for a space-based reconnaissance system to counter the increasing security threats from South Korea and the United States. However, the spy satellite displayed in the country’s state-run media did not appear to possess the sophistication required for high-resolution imagery. External experts suggested that it might be capable of detecting troop movements and large targets such as warships and warplanes.
Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Sohae launch center indicated ongoing construction activities, suggesting the country’s intentions to launch multiple satellites. In his statement, Ri also mentioned North Korea’s plans to test various reconnaissance methods to monitor the movements of the United States and its allies in real-time.
The spy satellite is one among several advanced weapon systems that Kim Jong Un has publicly pledged to introduce. His wish list includes a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile, and a hypersonic missile. During his visit to the space agency in mid-May, Kim emphasized the strategic significance of a spy satellite in North Korea’s standoff with the United States and South Korea.
Professor Easley suggested that Kim likely intensified pressure on scientists and engineers to launch the spy satellite following South Korea’s successful launch of its first commercial-grade satellite aboard its domestically built Nuri rocket earlier in the month. South Korea is expected to launch its own spy satellite later this year, and Kim likely desires to launch North Korea’s spy satellite before the South does to solidify his military credentials domestically.
Although North Korea experienced multiple failures in the past, it succeeded in placing its first satellite into orbit in 2012, followed by a second one in 2016. The government claimed that both satellites were part of its peaceful space development program for Earth observation. However, many foreign experts suspect that their true purpose was spying on adversaries.
To date, there has been no concrete evidence indicating that these satellites have transmitted imagery back to North Korea.
Please note that the information provided is based on available reports and analysis from reliable sources.