North Korea has launched a reconnaissance satellite, sparking concerns in the region. The launch took place just before 15:00 Italian time. The North Korean regime had notified Japanese authorities that the launch window would open at midnight on November 22 and remain open until November 30. Immediately after the launch, Japan urged residents of Okinawa Island to seek shelter in underground facilities.
South Korea quickly issued a warning, threatening to take necessary measures to protect its citizens’ lives and security, although the specific actions were not specified. South Korea is also preparing to launch its first domestically-developed satellite into orbit. The South Korean launch is scheduled for November 30 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Base in California. This sets up a race between the two Koreas.
It should be noted that the United Nations Security Council has banned North Korea from conducting satellite launches for years since they are seen as cover for intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
North Korea has previously attempted to launch a spy satellite twice, but both attempts failed. The first failure occurred on May 31 of this year when the Chollima-1 rocket, intended to put the Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit, fell into the Yellow Sea due to malfunctioning of the second stage. On August 24, the third stage did not function. The South Koreans recovered the satellite debris and deemed it “rudimentary”.
In September, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Russia and was received by Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. When asked if Russia was willing to help North Korea achieve its dream of becoming a space power capable of launching satellites, Putin replied, “That’s why we’re here, since the North Korean leader is very interested in missile technology.” Washington and Seoul suspect that the two leaders made a deal: North Korean ammunition in exchange for Russian artillery technology used in Ukraine. Western intelligence has reported the shipment of one million shells from North Korea to Russia in recent weeks. It is possible that the technicians at Vostochny returned the favor by providing advice to their counterparts in Pyongyang.
There are several reasons why Pyongyang wants to launch a spy satellite. It would allow North Korean intelligence to observe military maneuvers south of the 38th Parallel in real-time, providing a comprehensive view of the adversary’s movements and avoiding misinterpretations or escalations. Additionally, having satellites in orbit could enhance Kim’s ambition and accelerate the development of the missile program. Satellites can track missile behavior during flight and monitor their impact points in the ocean. Without satellites, North Korea must rely on ships in the impact area, far from the coast, which its navy does not have the capacity to patrol in the East of the Japanese archipelago.