North Korea’s Satellite Incapable of Conducting Military Reconnaissance, South Korea Says

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South Korea has successfully retrieved the wreckage of North Korea’s spy satellite, which crashed into the sea on May 31, and assessed that it had no military use for conducting reconnaissance from space.

North Korea tried to launch its first military reconnaissance satellite into space on May 31, but the rocket ended up crashing into the West Sea of Korea shortly after takeoff due to an engine malfunction.

South Korea’s military detected the failed launch and initiated a salvage operation to retrieve debris from the rocket. The operation lasted until July 5, after which South Korean and U.S. experts carried out a detailed analysis of the wreckage.

“After detailed analysis on major parts of North Korea’s space launch vehicle and satellite which were salvaged, South Korean and U.S. experts have assessed that they had no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite at all,” the military said.

Lee Choon-geun, an expert at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said the initial assessment indicated the reconnaissance capability of the equipment was poor in terms of resolution and tracing targets.

The newly developed Chollima-1 rocket carrying the Malligyong-1 satellite is launched at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongch’ang-ri, North Korea, on May 31, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Yang Uk, a fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in South Korea, also said that “the resolution of the optical device loaded on the satellite was not suitable for military use,” Reuters reported.

North Korea’s state media did not immediately respond to South Korea’s claims.

The day the launch failed, North Korea’s state media said the rocket lost thrust following the separation of its first and second stages, then crashed into the sea.

At a ruling party meeting last month, North Korea called the failed launch “the most serious” shortcoming this year and harshly criticized those responsible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration after recent satellite system tests, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by state media on March 10, 2022. (KCNA via Reuters)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said that having an operational military reconnaissance satellite would be crucial for North Korea to cope with the “most hostile rhetoric and explicit action” by the United States and South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, has said that her nation will boost efforts to enhance its spy capabilities despite the rocket failure, state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

North Korea conducted the final-stage test of the spy satellite last year to evaluate the capabilities of satellite photography and data transmission system. KCNA released black-and-white photos of South Korea’s cities of Seoul and Incheon, which, when enlarged, showed areas surrounding the South Korean presidential office in Seoul.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan denounced North Korea’s rocket launch as a security risk and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban the country’s use of ballistic missile technology. But further sanctions are unlikely since permanent council members Russia and China oppose new action.

“We urge all countries to condemn this launch and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations,” National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and the defense of our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies,” Mr. Hodge added.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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