North Korea on Thursday launched a space vehicle carrying its first military reconnaissance satellite, but failed to put it into orbit.
The launch was the second such failure in three months, denting the image of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who has made it one of his top priorities to strengthen and modernize his country’s military capabilities. North Korea said it would try to launch the satellite again in October.
North Korea’s new Chollima-1 rocket, launched at 3:50 a.m. local time from its space launch station in Tongchang-ri, near its northwestern border with China, flew south over the sea between Korea and China. The launch triggered an emergency warning in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where residents were asked to take cover. Japan lifted the warning 20 minutes later, as the rocket flew toward waters east of the Philippines.
North Korea later said its launch had failed because the “emergency blasting system” of the rocket’s third stage malfunctioned.
The South Korean military also called the launch a “failure,” and condemned it as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from testing any technology that can be used to build ballistic missiles. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said his government protested the launch “in the strongest possible terms.”
North Korea had given notice that it would launch a satellite between Thursday and next Thursday, prompting South Korea and Japan to place their militaries on extra vigilance in case debris from the North’s rocket fell on their territories.
North Korea has said it would place a fleet of satellites to monitor American and South Korean military activities in the region and to bolster its nuclear weapons capabilities.
It first launched its Chollima-1 rocket on May 31, with the hope of putting its first military reconnaissance satellite, the Malligyong-1, into orbit. But the rocket, which set off alarms and a false evacuation order in Seoul, crashed into the sea off South Korea’s west coast shortly after launching. The North has said its leadership “bitterly criticized” officials responsible for the botched launch.
After studying the debris it salvaged from the sea, South Korea said that the North Korean satellite was so rudimentary that it could never serve as a functioning spy satellite as North Korea wished.
If the satellite were placed successfully into orbit, North Korea would have used it for propaganda to boost Mr. Kim’s standing at home, analysts said.
When Mr. Kim ordered his country to double down on its efforts to enlarge and diversify its nuclear arsenal during a ruling Workers’ Party meeting in 2021, he emphasized the need to place military spy satellites into orbit.
Mr. Kim badly needs to boost his people’s morale ahead of the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s founding. This week, state media showed Mr. Kim wading into waist-deep sea waters flooding rice paddies off his country’s west coast and bitterly criticized officials for “very irresponsible neglect of duties.”
The launching on Thursday came six days after President Biden met with Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea at his presidential retreat Camp David. The leaders agreed to expand their trilateral partnership, including joint military exercises, to meet growing regional challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.
On Monday, the United States and South Korea kicked off a 10-day joint military drill known as Ulchi Freedom Shield, which the North called a rehearsal for nuclear war.
The Camp David summit was to “detail, plan and formulate the nuclear war provocation on the Korean Peninsula,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said this week. “An unprecedented large-scale thermonuclear war is approaching the Korean Peninsula every moment as reality.”
North Korea’s space and ballistic missile programs are closely interlocked. The country launched rockets, saying they carried satellites, before it conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test in 2017. North Korea has since launched several more ICBMs, including one fired on July 12.