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N. Korea suspected spy satellite launch ends in ‘fragments’

By AFP - May 28,2024 - Last updated at May 28,2024

This photo allegedly shows the launch of Malligyong-1, a military spy satellite, into orbit in November 2023 (Korean Central News Agency)

SEOUL — North Korea’s latest satellite launch ended in a mid-air explosion on Monday night, Pyongyang said, hours after its announcement of the planned projectile was criticised by Seoul and Tokyo.

The launch of the Malligyong-1-1 reconnaissance satellite “exploded in the air during the first flight and failed to launch”, the country’s National Aerospace Technology Administration said in a statement carried by state media, adding the “cause of the accident was the reliability of the newly developed liquid oxygen and oil engine”.

Japanese broadcaster NHK ran footage of what appeared to be a flaming projectile in the night sky, which then burst into a ball of flame, saying it had filmed it from northeast China at the same time as the attempted launch.

Pyongyang had notified Japan earlier Monday that it was planning to put another satellite into orbit, after a successful attempt in November, plus two failed efforts earlier last year.

Nuclear-armed North Korea is barred by multiple UN resolutions from tests using ballistic technology, and analysts say there is significant technological overlap between space launch capabilities and the development of ballistic missiles.

“Our military detected around 22:44 [13:44 GMT] on Monday the trajectory of what’s suspected to be the North’s military reconnaissance satellite fired from Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province southwards,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

But two minutes later “many fragments of the projectile were detected in North Korean waters, and the US and South Korea are analysing whether it had an operational flight”, the JCS added.

Japan also confirmed the launch and the government briefly issued an alert warning residents of southern Okinawa prefecture to take cover in shelters, but it was lifted minutes later.

Nuclear-armed North Korea successfully launched its first reconnaissance satellite last November, drawing international condemnation, with the United States calling it a “brazen violation” of UN sanctions.


Hours after trilateral 


The attempted launch came just hours after Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo wrapped up their first trilateral summit since 2019.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol said Monday that another satellite launch — North Korea’s fourth attempt — would “undermine regional and global peace and stability” and urged Pyongyang not to go ahead.

The South Korean military conducted attack formation flight and strike training on Monday to demonstrate “the strong capabilities and will of our military” after North Korea notified Japan of its plans to launch a satellite by June 4.

Experts say that spy satellites could improve North Korea’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly over South Korea, and provide crucial data in any military conflict.

Seoul has said the North received technical help from Russia for its November satellite launch, in return for sending Moscow weapons for use in the war in Ukraine.

Kim Jong-un met President Vladimir Putin in Russia last September, and Putin suggested afterwards that his nation could help Pyongyang build satellites.

A group of Russian engineers has entered North Korea to help with the launch preparations, Yonhap reported Sunday, citing a government official.

Seoul had said on Friday that South Korean and US intelligence authorities were “closely monitoring and tracking” preparations for another launch.

North Korea claims the “Malligyong-1” satellite it put into orbit in November is successfully functioning, but Seoul’s intelligence agency has cast down on this claim.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service collected and analysed debris from one of Pyongyang’s failed launches earlier last year, finding it had no military utility.

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