The top North Korean official in charge of space launched a new satellite on May 31, but the projectile and its payload crashed into the sea shortly after launch. The failure was a blow to leader Kim Jong Un’s plans for putting a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit, raising international concern and further straining the North’s relations with the United States and South Korea.
In a high-level meeting held during the three-day gathering of the ruling party’s Central Committee, officials harshly criticized those responsible for the launch failure. They vowed to push ahead with a second attempt at putting a spy satellite into space, state media reported on Monday.
It was the fifth time Pyongyang attempted to put a satellite into orbit, but it was the first since 2016. North Korea has yet to successfully place a working satellite in orbit, although it boasts of having mastered the technology.
Kim Jong Un reportedly demanded an urgent investigation into the failed launch. He called for the scientists and officials involved to “learn the lesson of the mistake, find out what caused the rocket to crash, and make a successful launch quickly,” KCNA quoted its spokesman. The report didn’t say when the North will try to put the satellite into orbit again. South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers that the North would likely take more than several weeks to figure out what went wrong with its latest attempt.
The rocket that failed to reach its target was a newly developed version of the Chollima-1, KCNA said. It launched at 6:27 a.m. from the Tongchang-ri area, home to the country’s main space launch center. It lost propulsion after separating from the first stage, which was supposed to put the satellite into orbit. The missile fell into the West Pacific Ocean about 30 minutes after launch. The South’s military has salvaged pieces of the rocket from the sea, allowing it to analyze its technological content.
Seoul and Tokyo condemned the launch, calling it a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that forbid ballistic missile and nuclear tests. The United States said it is open to dialogue with the North but that Pyongyang must cease provocative actions and show clear progress in denuclearization before talks can resume.
North Korea has also been focusing on developing other advanced weapons systems recently, including a nuclear submarine, solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile, and hypersonic weapon. The North says developing its missile and nuclear programs is a necessary countermeasure against escalating security threats from the United States and its allies.
The United States and other Western countries are also concerned that the North could use nuclear technology to develop a long-range, nuclear-capable missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and perhaps even Japan. Despite its mounting arms arsenal, the North has repeatedly pushed for denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.