North Korea Prematurely Launched Latest Imaging Satellite, Failed and Brought International Condemnation

At approximately 1730 EST, North Korea launched the Manri-1 Spy Satellite on the Chollima-1 satellite carrier rocket from Seohae Satellite Launching Station in Cheolsan-gun, North Pyongan Province. The test was an admitted failure by the Hermit Kingdom which made this announcement at 2016 EST:

The launched new satellite carrier rocket ?Chollima-1? crashed into the West Sea of ??Korea while losing propulsion due to an abnormal startup of the engine on the 2nd stage after the 1st stage was separated during normal flight.

A spokesperson for the National Space Development Agency believes that the reliability and stability of the new engine system introduced for the satellite carrier rocket ?Chollima-1? type is low and the characteristics of the fuel used are unstable, which is the cause of the accident. He said he was starting an investigation.

The National Space Development Agency stated that it would specifically investigate and explain the serious flaws in the satellite launch, urgently devise scientific and technological measures to overcome them, and carry out the second launch as soon as possible after passing through various partial tests.”

This is the fifth attempted satellite launch since 2009, with the only successful launch being on February 7th, 2016 when the Kwangmyongsong-4 imaging satellite was delivered to orbit. As of this publication, it is not clear if the satellite is still functioning.

However, the story of the failed launch is not the most important aspect; rather, the indications and warnings that NGOs had at their disposal and the agitation Pyongyang caused by not following international norms. For the past several weeks 38North has been tracking a flurry of activity at Sohae, including constructing a second launch pad and mobilizing the primary launch pad where the launch was most likely carried out. The below imagery products from 38North show the progress made by the North Koreans in only a week:

38North, New Coastal Launch Pad construction
38North Close up of the Horizontal Assembly Building from May 23, 2023.
38North, New Coastal Launch Pad construction
38North, New Coastal Launch Pad construction
38North primary launch pad.
38North new coastal launch pad.

The analysts at 38North, through commercial imagery, had clear indications and warnings that both sites were being prepared for an imminent launch. However, the North Koreans told the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at 0530 EST on May 30th, 2023, that it intended to launch a satellite between May 31st and June 11th. In previous launches, Pyongyang followed international norms and provided 5-10 days of notification, so commercial and foreign national entities could plan. However, after only thirty-six hours of notification, the North Koreans executed their failed launch. In fact, the Japanese government only issues their Notice to Airmen at 1715 EST on May 30th, 2023, a mere twenty-four hours before the launch.

While the remnants of the satellite and rockets fell into international waters, the danger does not need elaboration. However, another aspect of this launch that has international leaders riled is the use of ballistic missile technology in the launch materials. The United States, Japan, South Korea, and Australia have publicly decried the launch, much like the previous satellite launches, because North Korea uses much of the same propellants and missile technology in its satellite-carrying rockets that it does for its warhead delivery program. So, this launch provides North Korea cover while actually collecting telemetry data and potentially advancing their ballistic missile program, especially their solid-fuel ICBMs.

While some media outlets have claimed that another launch could occur from the site in the coming days, the North Koreans have never attempted two launches that close together. The closes launched were in 2012, with the first on April 13th and the second on December 12th.

Tessaron
Tessaron
United States Military Academy and American Military University Alumni. Victor covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.

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