North Korea announced on Wednesday that it had successfully launched a spy satellite into orbit. This marks the country’s third launch attempt this year, displaying its determination to build a space-based surveillance system amid ongoing tensions with the United States. The claim has not been independently verified, and doubts persist about the satellite’s advanced capabilities. However, the launch has drawn strong condemnation from the US and its allies, as the UN prohibits North Korea from conducting satellite launches due to concerns that they serve as cover for missile technology tests.
The North Korean National Aerospace Technology Administration stated that the new “Chollima-1” carrier rocket accurately placed the Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit on Tuesday night. The agency referred to the launch as North Korea’s legitimate right to enhance its self-defense capabilities. The spy satellite is intended to improve the nation’s readiness to counter “the enemies’ dangerous military moves.”
North Korea plans to launch additional spy satellites in the future to enhance monitoring of South Korea and other regions. The launch has elicited strong reactions from various countries. The US National Security Council strongly condemned North Korea, claiming that the launch raises tensions and risks destabilizing the regional security situation. South Korea announced that it would suspend a 2018 inter-Korean tension-reduction agreement and resume frontline aerial surveillance of North Korea in response to the launch. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described the launch as a serious threat to the safety of the people and lodged a protest with North Korea.
According to assessments by South Korea and Japan, the rocket carrying the satellite flew from the Korean Peninsula’s west coast, passing over Okinawa in Japan and heading towards the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government issued a J-Alert missile warning for Okinawa, urging residents to seek shelter.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch and congratulated scientists and others involved. The launch signifies Kim’s desire to modernize North Korea’s weapons systems in response to perceived threats from the US. Earlier launch attempts this year failed due to technical issues. The delay in this launch was likely due to Russian technological assistance that North Korea received for its spy satellite program.
North Korea and Russia, both globally isolated countries and adversaries of the US, have been actively seeking to expand their relationship in recent months. In September, Kim met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and visited key military sites, sparking speculation about a potential weapons deal. The alleged deal involves North Korea supplying conventional arms to replenish Russia’s ammunition stock, while North Korea seeks Russian assistance to enhance its nuclear and military programs. Both Russia and North Korea have denied the existence of such a deal.
Experts suggest that North Korea’s possession of a rocket capable of placing a satellite into orbit implies the ability to build a missile of similar size capable of carrying a warhead. North Korea conducted approximately 100 ballistic missile tests last year to establish a reliable nuclear weapon arsenal targeting the US and its allies. To date, North Korea still needs to master certain technologies to acquire functional nuclear missiles.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol expressed concerns that the successful launch of a reconnaissance satellite indicates that North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities have reached a higher level. In response, South Korea has decided to push for the suspension of the 2018 inter-Korean tension-reduction agreement.
North Korea had informed Japan that it would launch a satellite between Wednesday and November 30. However, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary criticized North Korea for launching before the designated timeframe.
North Korea is currently subject to 11 rounds of UN sanctions due to its past nuclear and missile tests. It is unlikely that Tuesday’s launch will result in fresh sanctions, as Russia and China have already prevented the UN Security Council from imposing further penalties. In June, Kim’s sister denounced the Security Council as a political tool of the US and criticized its selective focus on North Korea’s satellite launches while ignoring the activities of other countries.
The rocket and satellite used in Tuesday’s launch were the same as those used in previous attempts in May and August. The first attempt ended with the rocket crashing into the ocean shortly after liftoff.