North Korea fails to launch rocket containing country’s first military spy satellite

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report about North Korea firing what it calls a space satellite southward, in Seoul, South Korea, May 31, 2023. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/REUTERS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Wednesday that its attempt to launch the country’s first spy satellite had failed.

In a statement published in state media, North Korea said a rocket carrying the spy satellite crashed in the waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula after losing thrust following the separation of its first and second stages.

He said scientists were examining the cause of the failure.

The South Korean military earlier said the North Korean rocket had “abnormal flight” before it hit the waters.

The rocket was launched around 6:30 am from North Korea’s northwestern Tongchang-ri area, where the country’s main space launch center is located, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Following the launch, the South Korean capital Seoul issued alerts through public speakers and mobile phone text messages telling residents to prepare for evacuation. But there were no reports of damage or major outages and Seoul later lifted the alert.

The Japanese government has activated a missile warning system for its Okinawa prefecture in southwestern Japan, which is believed to be in the path of the rocket.

“Evacuate to buildings or underground,” the alert said. Authorities later lifted evacuation orders.

Japan’s coast guard said Monday that North Korea had informed it of a plan to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11. Japan’s defense minister had ordered his forces to shoot down the satellite or the debris, if any entered Japanese territory.

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North Korea’s launch of a satellite is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit the country from using ballistic technology because it is considered a cover for missile tests.

Ri Pyong Chol, a senior North Korean official and close aide to leader Kim Jong Un, said Tuesday that North Korea was forced to ensure “a reliable reconnaissance and information system” due to what he said were growing security threats. by the United States. and their allies. He said North Korea would launch a spy satellite in June.

It was not immediately clear whether a North Korean spy satellite would significantly bolster its defenses. The satellite reported in the country’s state media did not appear to be sophisticated enough to produce high-resolution images. But some experts say it is likely still capable of detecting troop movements and large targets such as warships and fighter jets.

Recent commercial satellite images of the North’s main rocket launch center in the northwest showed active construction activities indicating that North Korea nonetheless plans to launch more than one satellite.

And in his statement on Tuesday, Ri said the country would test “various means of recognition.”

He said those surveillance assets are tasked with “tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling” and responding, both in advance and in real time, to the movements of the United States and its allies.

With three to five spy satellites, North Korea could build a space-based surveillance system that allows it to monitor the Korean peninsula in near real time, according to Lee Choon Geun, an honorary fellow at the Korea Institute for Science and Technology Policy. South.

During his visit to the country’s aerospace agency earlier this month, Kim stressed the strategic importance a spy satellite could have in North Korea’s confrontation with the United States and South Korea.

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The satellite is one of several high-tech weapons systems that Kim has publicly promised to introduce in recent years. Other weapons he has committed to developing include a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, a solid-propellant ICBM and a hypersonic missile.

Denuclearization talks with the US have been stalled since early 2019. Meanwhile, Kim has focused on expanding his nuclear and missile arsenals in what experts say is an attempt to wrest concessions from Washington and Seoul. . Since early 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, many involving nuclear-capable weapons targeting the mainland United States, South Korea and Japan.

North Korea says its testing activities are self-defense measures aimed at responding to expanded military exercises between Washington and Seoul that it sees as invasion drills. US and South Korean officials say their exercises are defensive and have strengthened them to deal with North Korea’s growing nuclear threats.

The UN has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea over its previous satellite launches, which it sees as a cover for testing its long-range missiles. China and Russia, permanent members of the UN council now at odds with the United States, have already blocked attempts to toughen sanctions over Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile tests.

Before Tuesday’s launch, both South Korea and Japan said such a move would undermine regional peace. The South Korean Foreign Ministry warned that North Korea would face consequences.

After repeated failures, North Korea successfully launched its first satellite into orbit in 2012 and its second in 2016. The government said both are Earth observation satellites launched under its peaceful space development program, but many foreign experts believed that both were developed for spying. about rivals.

Observers say there has been no evidence that the satellites ever transmitted images to North Korea. But North Korea will probably avoid new UN sanctions this time because

Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.