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“The launch of the new satellite transport rocket ‘Cholima-1’ “crashed into the West (Yellow) Sea after losing thrust due to the erratic operation of the two-stage engine,” the official KCNA reported.
Prior to Pyongyang’s announcement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff indicated that its military was looking into the launch after the device disappeared from its radars.
“The (North Korean) missile disappeared from the radar before it reached its intended destination,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration attributed the launch failure to “the poor reliability and stability of the new engine system applied to Chollima-1 and the unstable nature of the fuel used”.
It said it would fully investigate the “serious defects” detected in the satellite launch and try again “as soon as possible”.
Announce the launch
The South Korean military said it had discovered and recovered a suspicious piece of the satellite in waters 200 kilometers west of Iochong Island.
Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States “strongly” condemned the satellite launch and warned that it “raised tensions” in the region.
For its part, Japan confirmed that “such a ballistic missile launch” violates UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea on Tuesday confirmed its plans to launch what it called “Military Reconnaissance Satellite No. 1” by June 11, and that Japan had been informed of its plans.
Shortly after the launch, South Korea issued a text alert saying, “Citizens, please prepare for evacuation and allow children and the elderly to be evacuated with priority,” as sirens sounded in the center of the capital, Seoul.
But minutes later, South Korea’s interior ministry acknowledged that the warning was “improperly issued,” without further explanation.
Japan briefly activated the missile alert for the southern region of Okinawa on Wednesday morning and lifted it about 30 minutes later.
“Military Reconnaissance Satellite No. 1” will be launched “in June to counter the dangerous military actions of the United States and its followers,” said Ri Byong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of North Korea’s ruling party, via KCNA.
He pointed out that the satellite, along with “the various means of reconnaissance that must be tested, is indispensable for tracking, monitoring (…) and dealing in advance and in real time with the dangerous military actions of the United States and its affiliated forces.”
His comment was a reference to joint US-Seoul military exercises near the Korean peninsula, which Pyongyang views as rehearsals for invasion.
Kim kept his word
Since long-range missiles and space launchers share the same technology, analysts believe that developing the ability to put a satellite into orbit would give Pyongyang cover to test its banned ICBMs.
“Kim kept his word and launched the spy satellite today,” Sue Kim of LMI Consulting and a former CIA analyst told AFP, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We know that Kim’s resolve does not end with this activity,” the analyst said, adding that the launch could be “a precursor to further provocations, including the nuclear test that we have long speculated about.”
After breaking off dialogue with Washington over North Korea’s nuclear program in 2019, Pyongyang has furthered development of its nuclear programme, with a series of weapons tests including several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Whether or not North Korea’s current satellite mission is successful, it is expected that Pyongyang will use it as political propaganda for its space capabilities, as well as diplomatic rhetoric to drive a wedge between Seoul and Tokyo,” Leaf said. – Eric Easley, Professor at Ewha University, Seoul.
Since 1998, Pyongyang has launched five satellites, three of which failed immediately and two seem to have reached orbit, although their signals were not detected independently, which could be due to a malfunction.
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