Seoul, South Korea
North Korea said Wednesday it had put its first spy satellite into orbit and vowed to launch more to guard against what it called its “adversaries’ dangerous military maneuvers.”
Analysts say the spacecraft, if operational, would significantly improve North Korea’s military capabilities.
The satellite, named “Malligyong-1,” was launched late Tuesday on a new carrier rocket called “Collima-1,” state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
“Launching a spy satellite is North Korea’s legitimate right to strengthen its self-defense,” the KCNA statement said.
Neither South Korea, the United States nor Japan, which has been experiencing escalating military tensions with North Korea, could confirm that the satellite entered orbit.
But South Korea called the launch a “clear violation” of a UN Security Council resolution banning North Korea from using ballistic missile technology.
The South Korean government on Wednesday morning partially suspended an agreement with North Korea that limited the South’s spying and surveillance activities along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates Tuesday night’s satellite launch with workers in a picture provided by state media.
The rocket carrying the satellite is believed to have launched in a southerly direction and passed over Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the launch, calling it a “serious situation” that would “affect the security” of people in Japan, while reiterating his commitment to continue working with the United States and South Korea to respond to Pyongyang’s launches.
In a statement on Wednesday, Seoul’s military said it was monitoring preparations for the launch in close cooperation with the United States.
Aegis fighter jets from South Korea, the United States and Japan were dispatched to monitor the launch and information on its specifications was being studied in detail, the statement said.
Japanese Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said his country was still trying to determine whether a North Korean satellite had reached orbit.
Pyongyang First it tried to put the satellite into orbit At the end of May, however, the second stage of the rocket carrying the satellite malfunctioned and it fell into the ocean.
KCNA attributed the “reliability and stability of the new engine system” to “low” and “unstable” use of fuel that led to the failure of the mission.
A A second attempt in August failed A KCNA statement said at the time when “an error occurred in the emergency detonation system during the third phase of flight”.
Japanese officials said the rocket broke into pieces before falling into the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and Pacific Ocean.
A UN Slanderous speech in the Security Council After the second failed launch, North Korean Ambassador Kim Song insisted that continuing the spy satellite program was within the country’s “legitimate right as a sovereign state.” He denied that North Korea was seeking to acquire intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology by launching satellites.
A third attempt on Tuesday night was widely expected and signaled by Pyongyang, which promised to launch more early Wednesday.
North Korea’s National Space Development Administration will “submit a plan to secure its ability to reconnoiter South Korean territory … by launching several additional spy satellites in a short period of time,” KCNA said.
Pyongyang has said maintaining a satellite is a legitimate self-defense measure against what it says are continued provocations by the United States, South Korea and Japan.
Earlier this week, North Korea rebuked the United States for possible sales of advanced missiles to Japan and military equipment to South Korea, which KCNA said was “a dangerous move.”
North Korea said it was “obvious” against whom the offensive military equipment would be used.
Even a satellite in orbit could help North Korea’s military posture, analysts said.
“If it works it will improve the North Korean military’s command, control and communications or intelligence and surveillance capabilities. It will improve the North’s ability to command forces in any conflict,” said Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
“This satellite will give them a capability to help them target military targets, help them assess damage,” said Ankit Panda, nuclear policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Panda said lessons learned from Tuesday’s launch will be used in building future satellites.
“They are going to take what they learned from this successful launch and apply it to additional launches. “They will see a flexible, redundant constellation of Earth observation satellites, and that will make a big difference to (North Korea’s) overall strategic situational awareness capabilities,” he said.
But others cautioned that Pyongyang would need to see the true capabilities of what was launched late Tuesday. Some have argued that the North has more to lose from the South resuming intelligence gathering on the border than it has to gain from the satellite launch.
“Seoul may soon begin surveillance drone operations along the DMZ, producing more useful intelligence than North Korea’s basic satellite program,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Shin Wonsik said last Sunday The North is believed to have “almost solved” its rocket engine problems “with the help of Russia”.
After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia in September, he visited a Russian space rocket launch site with President Vladimir Putin.
But Panda cautioned against making assumptions that Russia’s help and advice made the difference to a successful third launch.
“It seems unlikely to me given the timeline here that the North Koreans have already received and implemented technical assistance from Russia,” he said.
“Let’s also remember that the North Koreans themselves are remarkably capable at this point.”