North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently visited Russia’s advanced space launch center, where he received a promise of assistance from President Vladimir Putin to help Pyongyang build satellites. This visit is significant as North Korea aims to launch its first spy satellite into orbit, following two failed attempts earlier this year.
Since 1998, North Korea has launched six satellites, with two believed to have successfully reached orbit. As early as 2015, a senior North Korean space official expressed a desire to develop cooperation with Russia in the peaceful use of outer space. The most recent successful satellite launch occurred in 2016, but there were debates about whether it transmitted any data.
After the 2016 launch, a senior official from North Korea’s space agency stated plans to launch more advanced satellites by 2020 and ultimately place the North Korean flag on the moon. During a party congress in January 2021, Kim Jong Un mentioned a wish to develop military reconnaissance satellites.
The intended Chollima-1 satellite appears to feature a new design and likely utilizes dual-nozzle liquid-fueled engines similar to those used for Pyongyang’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). South Korea has managed to recover wreckage from the Chollima-1, including parts of the satellite. While Seoul downplays the military value of the satellite, experts believe that any operational satellite in space would provide North Korea with valuable intelligence.
The launch of North Korea’s satellites has been met with controversy. The United States and its allies argue that these satellite tests violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the development of technology that could be used in North Korea’s missile programs. Resolutions passed with Russia’s support also forbid scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea in areas such as nuclear science, aerospace engineering, and advanced manufacturing.
When President Putin made comments about potential assistance to North Korea in building satellites, experts speculate that Russia may aim to teach North Korea the necessary skills rather than directly building the satellites for them. However, this raises concerns about potential violations of international sanctions imposed on North Korea.
In conclusion, North Korea’s space program and its aspirations to develop satellites have drawn international attention. The promised Russian assistance adds a new dimension to this ongoing race for space, raising questions about the compliance of such assistance with international sanctions.