North Korea’s Spy Satellites

North Korea’s Spy Satellites


  • Recently, a North Korean military reconnaissance satellite Malligyong­1 was launched through a new type of rocket named Chollima­1.

  • The satellite is said to have flown for about 10 minutes before crashing into the Yellow Sea.
  • The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the failure as the instability in the rocket’s engine and fuel system.
  • The launch, however, prompted evacuation warnings and emergency alerts in parts of South Korea and Japan.
  • The U.S., Japan and South Korea expressed ‘strong condemnation’ to the launch.

What is N. Korea’s space programme?

  • North Korea in the past decade has had an active space program that is closely related to its missile program.
  • Satellite launch vehicles use the same core technology as long­range missiles that deliver warheads capable of destroying intercontinental targets.
  • Starting from 1998, North Korea successfully orbited its first satellite in 2012 after three failed attempts.
  • The launch vehicle used was Unha­3, a likely variant of Taepodong­2 ICBM.
  • The Unha­type launch vehicle was also used in the 2016 launch of Pyongyang’s Earth Observation satellite.
  • The flight on May 31 was the sixth satellite launch by Pyongyang.
  • It was done through the Chollima­1 which is a new space launcher known to have an engine that is similar to North Korea’s dual­nozzle liquid­fuel machine used in Hwasong­15 ICBM.
  • Additionally, in April, North Korea announced that it had completed the construction of its first spy satellite.

Why does it want assets in space?

  • The North Korean spy satellites are expected to play a crucial role in providing advanced surveillance technology, that covers a large portion of the region, to improve the ability to strike targets during conflict.
  • Moreover, North Korea’s space programme is a response to other strategic developments in the region.
  • Earlier, the U.S. announced that it would be activating U.S. Space Forces Korea.
  • This system would provide South Korea with advanced capabilities of missile warning and satellite communications throughout the Korean peninsula and its proximate areas.
  • On May 25, South Korea successfully launched its Nuri rocket that is designed to assist Seoul’s efforts to develop a space­based surveillance system.
  • These developments nudged Pyongyang to hasten the launch of Malligyong­

What does this mean for East Asia?

  • The security anxiety in East Asia in response to the North Korean satellite launch reveals a sense of urgency among the regional powers.
  • North Korea no longer needs to develop its long­range missile technology under the guise of satellites since its test­firing in 2017.
  • Pyongyang seems unafraid to reveal its technological intentions and strengthen its security apparatus in the region.
  • While the launch is a breach of the UN Security Council resolutions, it is unlikely to attract additional economic sanctions.
  • This displays the weak effectiveness of sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Syllabus: Prelims