North Korea says rocket carrying satellite exploded mid-flight


North Korea has said its attempt to put a second spy satellite into orbit failed when the rocket it was on exploded.

The admission came late on Monday after South Korea’s military reported the launch of an “unidentified projectile”.

“The launch of the new satellite carrier rocket failed when it exploded in mid-air during the flight of the first stage,” the deputy director general of North Korea’s National Aerospace Technology Administration said in a report carried by state media.

An initial analysis suggested that the cause was a newly developed liquid fuel rocket motor, but other possible causes were being investigated, the report said.

Officials in South Korea and Japan had said earlier that the launch appeared to have failed.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile southwards” over the Yellow Sea and that several minutes afterwards many fragments were spotted in the sea.

In Japan, public broadcaster NHK reported a similar outcome.

A senior Japanese Ministry of Defence official told reporters: “The missile did not fly into the area that had been announced, and the situation is not as North Korea had intended. We are still analysing whether it is a satellite or not,” Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

Japan had issued an emergency alert ordering evacuations in southern Okinawa prefecture before lifting the warning and saying the rocket was not expected to fly over Japanese territory.

North Korea issued a notification of its launch plan earlier in the day, saying the launch window would last until June 4.

Nuclear-armed North Korea successfully launched its first spy satellite in November drawing international condemnation.

The US called the launch a “brazen violation” of UN sanctions, two months after Russian President Vladimir Putin met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia and promised technical assistance to the isolated country.

Kim said at the end of last year that Pyongyang would launch three more military spy satellites in 2024 as he continues a military modernisation programme that saw a record number of weapons tests in 2023.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said another satellite launch – North Korea’s fourth attempt – would “undermine regional and global peace and stability” while the South Korean military conducted attack formation flight and strike training to demonstrate “the strong capabilities and will of our military”.

Experts said spy satellites could improve Pyongyang’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly over South Korea, and provide crucial data in any military conflict.

Seoul and the United States accuse the North of sending Moscow weapons for use in its war in Ukraine in return for the technical assistance.

A group of Russian engineers entered North Korea to help with the launch preparations, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, quoting a government official.


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