North Korea announced on Tuesday that it successfully placed its first spy satellite into orbit, with plans to launch more in the near future. Despite international condemnation from the United States and its allies, South Korean and Japanese officials were unable to immediately verify if a satellite was indeed placed in orbit.
According to the North’s National Aerospace Technology Administration, the Malligyong-1 satellite was launched on a Chollima-1 rocket from the Sohae satellite launch facility. The launch took place at 10:42 p.m. (1342 GMT), and the satellite entered orbit at 10:54 p.m. (1354 GMT).
The United States expressed concern over the launch, with the Pentagon stating that it was still assessing whether it was a success or not. The National Security Council called it a “brazen violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions, while the State Department spokesperson remarked that it employed ballistic missile technology that is banned by these resolutions.
Reports suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the launch. South Korean officials believe that the launch likely received technical assistance from Russia, as the partnership between the two countries has grown stronger. North Korea’s space agency plans to send up multiple spy satellites in the future to bolster its surveillance capabilities.
A rudimentary satellite system would provide North Korea with the ability to remotely monitor U.S., South Korean, and Japanese troops. While this capability could potentially be used to target weapons in the event of war, it could also provide reassurance and stability by allowing for better insights into allied troop movements.
The launch prompted emergency alarms in South Korea and Japan, with residents being advised to take cover. The rocket was believed to be carrying a reconnaissance satellite and was launched towards the south, although it flew over and past Okinawa towards the Pacific Ocean. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the launch, stating that it violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and posed a threat to the safety of Japanese citizens.
Japan, South Korea, and the United States had coordinated efforts to pre-position Aegis destroyers and track the launch. South Korea is considering suspending parts of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement designed to reduce tensions, as North Korea continues to launch missiles and fly drones in violation of the agreement.