North Korea’s attempted satellite launch ends in mid-air explosion

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Picture credit: KCNA

28th May 2024 – (Pyongyang) North Korea’s latest attempt to launch a spy satellite ended in failure as the satellite exploded mid-air. The announcement of the planned launch had earlier drawn criticism from Seoul and Tokyo. Japanese broadcaster NHK shared footage showing a flaming projectile in the night sky, followed by a fiery explosion, which was reportedly captured in northeast China during the attempted launch.

The North Korean National Aerospace Technology Administration stated that the satellite “exploded in the air during the first flight stage and failed to launch.” According to the administration’s statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, an expert review attributed the accident to issues with the operational reliability of the newly developed liquid oxygen and oil engine.

The launch of a spy satellite has been a significant priority for Kim Jong-un’s regime, with previous claims of success in November last year following two failed attempts. However, Seoul’s intelligence agency has cast doubt on North Korea’s assertion that the Malligyong-1 (meaning Telescope-1) satellite placed into orbit in November is functioning successfully.

Earlier on Monday, Pyongyang had informed Japan about its plans for another satellite launch, which prompted criticism from both Seoul and Tokyo, urging North Korea to abandon the launch. South Korea’s military detected the launch but stated that the satellite “is presumed to have exploded in the air.” Further analysis is being conducted by the South Korean and US intelligence authorities in close cooperation.

The launch is seen as a provocative act violating UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the use of ballistic missile technology. There is a significant technological overlap between space launch capabilities and the development of ballistic missiles. The US Indo-Pacific Command condemned the launch as a “brazen violation” of UN resolutions, warning that it risks destabilising the security situation not only in the region but also beyond.

The attempted launch occurred shortly after a trilateral summit between Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo, marking the first such summit since 2019. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol expressed concerns that another satellite launch would undermine regional and global peace and stability.

Experts believe that spy satellites could enhance North Korea’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly over South Korea, and provide crucial data in potential military conflicts. Notably, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who suggested that Russia could assist Pyongyang in satellite development.