On May 31, North Korea attempted to launch its first military spy satellite in seven years. Unfortun…

On May 31, North Korea attempted to launch its first military spy satellite in seven years. Unfortunately, the Chollima-1 rocket carrying the Malligyong-1 satellite failed to deploy and suffered an anomaly around the time of first stage separation, resulting in the rocket crashing into the sea off the coast of South Korea.[0] Debris from the launch was recovered by South Korean forces, and experts are now assessing the state of North Korea’s rocket and missile technology. This attempt comes after North Korea announced plans to put its first military spy satellite into orbit to monitor US joint military drills with South Korea. The country has a relatively long history of satellite programs, with its first successful launch in 2012 and a second just over three years later.[1] However, experts doubt whether either satellite is currently sending data back to Earth.[1]

North Korea’s regime claims that the launch was a response to huge live-fire drills being conducted by South Korea and America between May 25th and June 15th, but other countries view it as a way to test and refine ballistic missile technology that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons.[1] Japan’s Ministry of Defense has lodged a protest to North Korea over the launch, and the US has strongly condemned the use of ballistic missile technology, calling it a “brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” that raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond.

The North Korean government bills its rocketry and satellite projects as the development of an indigenous spacefaring capability for peaceful exploration and exploitation of the cosmos.[2] Still, due to the country’s reclusive nature, nuclear weapons programs, and strained relations with the West, its satellite launches have been controversial on the world stage. In fact, the US State Department previously said that any North Korean launch that used ballistic missile technology would violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

The failure of the Malligyong-1 launch is unlikely to slow the regime, with North Korea already stating its intent to attempt another launch as soon as possible. According to Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, the country’s reconnaissance satellite will be used for “strengthening the military preparedness of the armed forces of the DPRK.” The surveillance satellite is “indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces.”

While North Korea’s satellite launches may be controversial, they serve a significant purpose for the country's military ambitions.[3] Satellites could speed up the development of its missile programme, and valuable information can be gleaned by observing missiles as they splash down.[4] Without satellites, this would need to be done by having ships nearby, which is not usually feasible for North Korea given the trajectories of its missile tests.[1] Furthermore, weapons development and satellite-equipment testing are not mutually exclusive, and the same test can serve both aims.[1]

In conclusion, the failure of North Korea’s recent satellite launch has resulted in debris being recovered and experts assessing the state of the country’s rocket and missile technology. The launch has been strongly condemned by the US and Japan, with North Korea already stating its intent to attempt another launch as soon as possible. While controversial on the world stage, North Korea’s satellite launches serve a significant purpose for the country's military ambitions, and further attempts are likely to occur in the future.

0. “Failed North Korea satellite launch sparks evacuations in South Korea and Japan” The Independent, 31 May. 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/east-asia/north-korea-satellite-launch-evacuation-b2348608.html

1. “Why is North Korea trying to launch a satellite?” The Economist, 31 May. 2023, https://www.economist.com/why-is-north-korea-launching-rockets-again

2. “North Korea's Chollima-1 rocket fails to reach orbit, debris recovered by South Korea – NASASpaceFlight.com” NASASpaceflight.com, 31 May. 2023, https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2023/05/chollima-1-fails-debris

3. “US ‘strongly condemns’ North Korea’s purported satellite launch” The Hill, 31 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/policy/international/4027406-us-strongly-condemns-north-koreas-purported-satellite-launch/

4. “Why does North Korea want a spy satellite so badly, and what went wrong with its attempt to launch one?” CBS News, 31 May. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/north-korea-spy-satellite-malligyong-1-chollima-1

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