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Five things to know about Pyongyang’s failed attempt to launch its first military satellite


Pyongyang is prohibited from using ballistic missile technology under a series of UN sanctions, one of which specifically requires the country “not to conduct any further nuclear tests or launches using ballistic missile technology.”

North Korea announced Wednesday that an attempt to launch its first “military reconnaissance satellite” failed, which “crashed into the sea” west of South Korea.

Kim Jong Un has made the development of such satellites a military priority, a program the United States says uses “ballistic missile technology” and therefore violates United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang.

Here are five things you should know about launching this satellite:

What happened?

Before Wednesday’s failed attempt, Pyongyang declared that military satellites would be vital in monitoring the military movements of the United States and its allies.

But the rocket that carried the moon crashed in the Yellow Sea due to “loss of part of the thrust due to abnormal operation of the second-floor engine,” according to the official North Korean news agency.

The South Korean military released photos of the wreckage of the satellite and the launcher, which it said was recovered from the Yellow Sea, about 200 kilometers from Iohseong Island, off the western coast of the Korean peninsula.

Despite this failure, Pyongyang on Wednesday revealed the name of its new missile, “Chiolima”, in reference to a pegasus that belongs to mythology and is very present in the country’s propaganda. The satellite, called Malyyeong, means telescope in Korean.

Is it forbidden?

Pyongyang is prohibited from using ballistic missile technology under a series of UN sanctions, one of which specifically requires the country “not to conduct any further nuclear tests or launches using ballistic missile technology.”

However, North Korea regularly violates these measures, which it describes as an attack on its sovereignty, and this year it tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang does not announce missile tests in advance, but it has warned foreign authorities in the past about planned satellite launches. Experts say it is all about Pyongyang emerging as a law-abiding global power.

In this context, North Korea informed Japan on Monday of the launch of a satellite into orbit between May 31 and June 11.

However, Choi Ji-il, a professor of military studies at Songji University in South Korea, says the technology used in both satellite and ICBM launches is “essentially the same.”

What is the difference between intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite missiles?

Sending satellites into space and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles requires special missile engineering and “sophisticated expertise,” according to experts.

Ballistic missiles carry internal guidance systems that allow them to leave the atmosphere and then enter it to hit specific targets on the ground. When a satellite is launched, the rocket takes it into an orbit and then separates from it, falling to the ground or into the sea in a shower of debris.

“With regard to ICBMs, mastering atmospheric reentry techniques is essential to ensure that a warhead does not burn up before reaching its target,” says Han Kwon-hee of the Missile Strategy Forum.

“But for rockets (carrying) satellites, this kind of technology that allows entry into the atmosphere is not necessary because their goal is to launch a satellite out of the stratosphere,” he added.

Han explains that Pyongyang warned Tokyo not to launch the satellite, because of the risk of falling debris.

Has North Korea ever launched a military satellite?

Experts confirm that North Korea does not have any operating satellites in space.

Since 1998, Pyongyang has launched five satellites. Three of them failed as soon as they were launched into space, but the other two appear to have reached orbit. However, none of their signals were detected independently, which may indicate a malfunction.

The last launch of a satellite by Pyongyang dates back to 2016. The following year, North Korea conducted a successful test of its first ballistic missile.

“The satellites launched by North Korea in the past were actually ballistic missile tests that were presented as normal satellite launches,” dissident Ahn Chan-il, director of the International Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

According to the researcher, the test conducted on Wednesday shows North Korea’s desire to enter the “military space age” ahead of its southern neighbor.

Is it a race to space?

South Korea’s Defense Ministry told AFP that Seoul is expected to launch its first satellite dedicated solely to military applications by the end of the year, using a SpaceX missile.

On May 25, Seoul launched its own rocket called “Nuri” and succeeded in putting many “commercial” satellites into orbit.

In response, “Kim Jong Un certainly increased pressure on his scientists and engineers to ‘accelerate’ the launch of a North Korean spy satellite,” Leif Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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