SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s attempt to send its first spy satellite into space failed on Wednesday, a setback to leader Kim Jong Un’s push to boost its military capabilities amid rising tensions with the United States and South Korea.
After an unusually quick admission of failure, North Korea vowed to conduct a second launch after learning what went wrong. It suggests that diplomacy is at a standstill as Kim seeks to expand his arsenal and exert more pressure on Washington and Seoul.
South Korea’s military said it was recovering an object believed to be part of a North Korean rocket that crashed into the sea 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the southwestern island of Icheon. Later, the Ministry of Defense released photographs of a white, metallic cylinder, which it described as a suspected rocket component.
North Korea’s satellite launch is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, which prohibit any launch based on ballistic technology. Observers say North Korea’s previous satellite launches have helped it improve its long-range missile technology. North Korea’s long-range missile tests in recent years have demonstrated the ability to reach the entire continental United States, but outside experts say the North still has some work to do to develop operational nuclear missiles.
The newly developed Cholima-1 rocket was launched from the North’s Sohae satellite launch pad in the northwest at 6:37 am carrying the Malligyong-1 satellite. The rocket crashed off the west coast of the Korean peninsula after it lost thrust after separating its first and second stages, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said.
South Korea’s military called the rocket an “unusual flight” before it fell into the water. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that no object is believed to have reached space.
North Korean media said the country’s space agency would conduct a second launch as soon as possible after investigating what it called “serious flaws revealed” by the launch.
“It is interesting that the North Korean regime actually admits failure, but it is difficult to hide the fact of a satellite launch failure internationally, and the regime will present a different story domestically,” said Professor Leif-Erik Easley. Iwa University in Seoul. “The decision also suggests that Pyongyang may launch another provocation soon to make up for today’s setback.”
US National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said Washington strongly condemned North Korea’s use of intercontinental ballistic missile technology, raising tensions and risking destabilizing security in the region and beyond.
The UN has imposed sanctions on North Korea over its previous satellite and ballistic missile launches, but has not responded to the latest tests because China and Russia, permanent Security Council members at loggerheads with the United States, have blocked efforts to tighten sanctions.
Seoul’s military said it had raised military readiness in coordination with the United States, and Japan said it was ready to face any emergency. The US has said it will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the US homeland and the security of South Korea and Japan.
After detecting the launch, the South Korean government sent cell phone text messages to residents of a front-line island off the west coast to evacuate. Authorities in the capital, Seoul, issued similar phone messages to city residents, but the country’s interior and defense ministries later said Seoul’s warnings had been sent in error. The mayor of Seoul apologized for causing public confusion.
Japan activated a missile warning system for Okinawa prefecture in southwestern Japan following the suspected trajectory of the rocket. “Please evacuate into buildings or underground,” said the Japanese warning.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said North Korea plans to deploy missile defense systems on its southern islands and in areas in the Southwest Sea until June 11, the end of North Korea’s announced missile window.
KCNA did not provide details about the rocket or satellite beyond their names. Experts have previously said North Korea may use a liquid-fueled rocket, as it has already tested long-range rockets and missiles.
Although it planned a thorough investigation, the North’s National Space Development Administration attributed the failure to “(the) low reliability and stability of the new type of engine system used in the carrier rocket” and “volatility of the fuel” KCNA.
On Tuesday, North Korea’s top official, Ri Pyong Chol, said a space-based intelligence system was needed to counter growing security threats from South Korea and the United States.
However, the spy satellite, previously shown in the country’s state-run media, does not appear to be sophisticated enough to produce high-resolution images. Some outside experts said it could detect troop movements and large targets such as warships and fighter jets.
Recent commercial satellite images from North Korea’s Sohe Missile Center show that North Korea plans to launch more than one satellite. In his Tuesday statement, Ri also said North Korea would test “various spying methods” to monitor the movements of the US and its allies in real time.
With three to five spy satellites, North Korea could build a space-based surveillance system, according to Lee Soon-kyun, an honorary researcher at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.
The satellite is one of several high-tech weapons systems that Kim has promised to publicly introduce. Other weapons on his wish list include a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, a solid-propellant ICBM and a hypersonic missile. In his visit to the space agency in mid-May, Kim stressed the strategic importance of the spy satellite in North Korea’s conflict with the United States and South Korea.
Easley, Professor Easley, said Kim may have increased pressure on his scientists and engineers to launch a spy satellite after rival South Korea successfully launched its first commercial-grade satellite on its domestically-made Nuri rocket.
South Korea is expected to launch its first spy satellite later this year, and analysts say Kim wants to launch his spy satellite before the South to bolster his military credentials domestically.
After a series of failures, North Korea successfully launched its first satellite in 2012 and a second in 2016. The government said both were Earth observation satellites launched under its peaceful space development program, but many foreign experts believe both were created to spy on rivals. .
Observers say there is no evidence these satellites sent images to North Korea.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.