North Korea’s attempt to put its first military satellite into orbit failed Wednesday. The unsuccessful launch was a setback for leader Kim Jong Un. Kim has pushed to increase his country’s military strength with new weapons.
State news agency KCNA said the new "Chollima-1" satellite launch rocket failed because of instability in the engine and fuel system. The launch was North Korea’s sixth satellite launch attempt, but its first since 2016.
The launch caused emergency alerts and brief evacuation warnings in parts of South Korea and Japan. The warnings were later cancelled with no damage reported.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was carrying out an operation to recover what are believed to be parts of the space launch vehicle. The military shared pictures of a large object floating in the sea about 200 kilometers off the west coast island of Eocheongdo.
George William Herbert of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies is a missile expert. He said the images showed at least part of a rocket, including an "interstage" part designed to connect to another part.
Japan’s foreign ministry said officials from the United States, Japan, and South Korea held a phone call in which they "strongly condemned" the launch.
North Korea had said it would launch its first military spy satellite between May 31 and June 11 to increase surveillance of U.S. military activities.
The North Korean rocket fell into the sea "after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine," state news reported.
State media said North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration said it would investigate the "serious defects” before conducting a second launch as soon as possible.
Leif-Eric Easley is a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. He said it would have been hard for North Korea to hide the failure internationally. But it will likely offer North Korean citizens a different story.
“This outcome also suggests that Pyongyang may stage another provocation soon, in part to make up for today’s setback,” Easley added.
The United Nations placed economic sanctions on North Korea over earlier satellite and missile launches and its nuclear program. But the U.N. has not reacted to recent tests. China and Russia have blocked attempts to increase the sanctions. The two nations are permanent Security Council members.
The U.S. said it would take all necessary measures to protect the American homeland and to defend South Korea and Japan.
Ri Pyong Chol is a top North Korean official. On Tuesday, he said the North needs a space-based surveillance system to balance growing security threats from South Korea and the United States.
However, the spy satellite shown earlier in the country’s state-run media did not appear to be able to produce high quality images. Some experts said it might be able to observe troop movements and large targets like warships and warplanes.
Lee Choon Geun is an expert with South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute. He said, with three to five spy satellites, North Korea could build a surveillance system to observe the Korean Peninsula at all times.
The satellite is one of several high-technology weapon systems that Kim has publicly promised. Other weapons include a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, an intercontinental ballistic missile and a hypersonic missile.
After several failures, North Korea successfully put its first satellite into orbit in 2012 and a second in 2016. The government said both are Earth observation satellites launched under its peaceful space development program. But many foreign experts believe both were developed to spy on other nations.
Observers say there has been no evidence that the satellites have ever sent images back to North Korea.
I’m Dan Novak.