North Korea appears to be preparing for its third attempt this year at launching a reconnaissance satellite. The previous attempts in May and August failed when the rockets crashed into the sea. The country has notified Japan about its plans, which has been met with criticism from Japan and South Korea citing a violation of the UN ban on missile development.
Since 1998, North Korea has launched six satellites, with two potentially reaching orbit. The last successful launch was in 2016, although there is debate over whether it transmitted any data. North Korea has expressed its desire to develop military reconnaissance satellites and has plans to put more advanced satellites into orbit by 2020. During a party congress in January 2021, leader Kim Jong-un revealed this wish list.
The Chollima-1 rocket, designed for the upcoming satellite launch, is believed to use dual-nozzle liquid-fuelled engines similar to Pyongyang’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). South Korea has recovered debris from previous launches, including parts of a satellite, but has yet to release detailed findings. It has stated that the satellite had little military value. Russia has offered technical assistance, and South Korean officials have suggested its involvement in the upcoming launch.
The United States and its allies consider North Korea’s satellite tests to be violations of UN resolutions. North Korea argues that its space program and defense activities are its sovereign right. Since 2016, North Korea has developed and launched multiple types of ICBMs, indicating its commitment to placing working satellites in space. This move would enhance its intelligence capabilities and demonstrate its progress in space technology compared to other regional powers.
North Korea could potentially use its satellites for more effective targeting of South Korea and Japan or for damage assessments during a war. On the other hand, if North Korea is able to verify through its own satellites that the United States and its allies are not planning an attack, it could potentially reduce tensions and provide stability in the region.