North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently visited Russia’s state-of-the-art space launch center, where President Vladimir Putin pledged support for Pyongyang’s satellite-building aspirations. This unprecedented visit comes as North Korea aims to successfully launch its first spy satellite into orbit, following two failed attempts earlier this year.
North Korea’s interest in space exploration dates back to 1998, when it successfully launched its first satellite. Since then, the country has launched a total of six satellites, with two appearing to have been successfully placed in orbit. In 2015, a senior North Korean space official expressed a desire to cooperate with Russia on the peaceful use of outer space.
During a congress in January 2021, Kim Jong Un unveiled plans to develop military reconnaissance satellites. The Chollima-1, believed to be a new satellite design, likely uses liquid-fueled engines similar to those used in Pyongyang’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). South Korea has recovered parts of the Chollima-1 wreckage, including some components of the satellite. While Seoul claims the satellite has limited military value, analysts point out that any functioning satellite in space would enhance North Korea’s intelligence capabilities.
However, North Korea’s satellite launches have drawn significant controversy. The United States and its allies have criticized these tests as clear violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the development of technology related to North Korea’s ballistic missile programs. These resolutions, which have Russia’s support, also prohibit scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea in nuclear science and technology, aerospace and aeronautical engineering, and advanced manufacturing production techniques.
The 2016 space launch by North Korea was particularly contentious, as it occurred before the country had tested an ICBM. The launch was denounced by the United States and South Korea, who viewed it as a disguised test of missile technology capable of reaching the continental United States. Since then, North Korea has successfully developed and launched multiple ICBMs and has shown a commitment to advancing its space ambitions.
Regarding Russia’s assistance, it remains uncertain whether they will provide technological guidance to North Korea or directly build satellites for them. Experts suggest that Russia might opt to teach North Korea satellite-building techniques, as physically launching a satellite on North Korea’s behalf would violate international sanctions. The specifics of their cooperation will be closely monitored, as any form of satellite technology transfers or coordination may face international scrutiny.
In conclusion, North Korea’s pursuit of satellites for reconnaissance purposes has sparked controversy and drawn condemnation from the international community. While Russia has expressed its willingness to assist North Korea in its space endeavors, the manner of this cooperation remains subject to scrutiny and potential violation of international sanctions.