North Korean spy satellite launch ends in sea smash

Rather than herald exciting success of best-ever lift-off, state media confirms fiasco. Consider us surprised

North Korea's attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit has failed and, in a rare case of admitting not everything was sunshine and roses in the "Democratic" People's Republic, state news sources actually confirmed the launch was a disaster. 

According to the Korean Central News Agency, military reconnaissance satellite Malligyong-1 launched this morning atop a new type of rocket, the Chollima-1, from the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, though it didn't get too far. 

"The carrier rocket 'Chollima-1' fell to the West Sea of Korea after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine after the separation of the first stage," state-run media said. According to DPRK state news, the country's National Aerospace Development Agency (NADA) blamed the failure on "low reliability and stability of the new-type engine system applied to the carrier rocket," as well as the "unstable character" of the fuel used for the launch. 

The "scientists, technicians and experts" involved will now begin "discovering concrete causes" for the snafu, state media explained. Given the reported violent proclivities of the current ruler – such as execution by anti-aircraft gun – we hope that investigation doesn't involve actual concrete.

Undeterred, North Korean officials are probing what the government news outlet called "serious defects revealed in the satellite launch" with plans to conduct a second attempt "as soon as possible."

DPRK leader Kim Jong-un earlier this month said it was necessary for his country to get a spy satellite into orbit due to, predictably, "confrontation maneuvers by the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet villains."

North Korea's uncharacteristic honesty about its failed launch confirms what the South Korean military was able to verify after it recovered wreckage 125 miles (200 km) west of the island of Eocheongdo said to be from this morning's launch.

Photos of the wreckage found by South Korean forces show a white metal cylinder that looks like parts of a rocket, though nothing on the satellite nor any other payload. The Norks' southern neighbor said the rocket had flown abnormally before falling into the water, and Japanese officials verified that no object reached space as part of the launch. 

In a statement on Tuesday US National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge strongly condemned the North Korean launch, and said the Biden administration was still assessing the situation. Hodge described the mission as a "claimed space launch [that] involved technologies that are directly related to the DPRK ICBM program."

Hodge described North Korea's choice to use a ballistic missile to launch an alleged satellite as a violation of "multiple UN Security Council resolutions," as well as a move that "raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond." The DPRK is banned by UN resolution from launching any missiles based on ballistic technology, though that has hardly stopped the Kim regime from doing as it pleases and generally getting away with it. 

North Korea still a space power, technically

While the attempt to launch a North Korean spy satellite failed, North Korea has technically already sent a craft to space – two of them, if you believe the North Korean side of the story. 

The hermit nation claimed to have launched a satellite way back in 1998 that it said was for peaceful scientific purposes and to broadcast "immortal revolutionary hymns" to honor then-leader Kim Jong Il and his also-late father, Kim Il Sung, both "eternal" leaders of the Nork regime since their deaths. 

South Korea's Nuri III rocket launch on 25 May 2023

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International watchers didn't buy the North Korean narrative in 1998, saying the rocket actually broke up over the Pacific Ocean without reaching orbit. Military listening posts never heard any orbital Juche tunes, either, it's reported.

Another North Korean attempt to get a satellite to space in 2012 succeeded, though not entirely successfully. While the first Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite failed to perform, its sister craft Kwangmyongsong-3-2 successfully made it to low-Earth orbit though has apparently never transmitted a signal and simply tumbles silently, despite North Korean claims to the contrary.

Kwangmyongsong-4, launched in 2016, met a similar fate. It reached orbit, but never sent a signal back to Earth, and more than a few of the world's intelligence agencies were no doubt checking carefully for such communications.

All those non-communicative launches have raised concerns North Korea is simply using satellites as cover for tests of its intercontinental ballistic missile program. What the rest of the world plans to do with that assessment is anyone's guess; responses to date suggest it won't be much for now. ®

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