North Korea is reportedly getting ready to launch a reconnaissance satellite for the third time this year, following unsuccessful attempts in May and August. The country has informed Japan of its plans to launch a satellite by December 1st, prompting criticism from Japan and South Korea due to a United Nations ban on missile development. Since 1998, North Korea has launched a total of six satellites, with two successfully reaching orbit and the last launch occurring in 2016.
There is debate among international observers about the functionality of these satellites, with lingering questions about whether they have transmitted any data. Experts note that North Korea has been using a three-stage rocket booster similar to previous launches, but a new launch pad has been built to accommodate larger rockets. During a party congress earlier this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed interest in developing military reconnaissance satellites.
The upcoming Chollima-1 launch is believed to feature a new design and may employ dual-nozzle liquid-fuelled engines developed for North Korea’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). South Korea has recovered some wreckage from previous satellite launches but has not released detailed findings. The country maintains that the satellites have limited military value.
The United States and its allies have condemned North Korea’s satellite tests as violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, as they’re seen as advancements in ballistic missile technology. North Korea, however, asserts that its space program and defense activities are its sovereign right. Since 2016, North Korea has developed and launched three types of ICBMs, indicating its commitment to both satellite and missile technologies. Analysts suggest that having functioning satellites could enhance North Korea’s intelligence capabilities and demonstrate its space power in the region.
While such satellites could be used to target South Korea and Japan or assess damage during a conflict, they could also serve as a means for North Korea to verify whether the United States and its allies pose an imminent threat. This, in turn, may help reduce tensions and promote stability in the region.