By Choe Sang-Hun
North Korea launched a rocket Tuesday in what South Korea said was an attempt to put its first military reconnaissance satellite in orbit, this time with technological help from Russia.
The rocket flew to the south over the sea between the Korean Peninsula and China, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. The United States, South Korea and Japan have all placed their militaries on alert to guard against such a launch, concerned that debris from the North’s rocket might fall on the Asian allies’ territories. They also want to collect intelligence on the rocket to determine the implications its satellite program may have on regional stability.
North Korea launched its new Chollima-1 rocket from its satellite launching station in Tongchang-ri near its northwestern border with China in May and again in August. The rocket flew on the same southbound trajectory, seeking to place satellites in orbit so that North Korea could better monitor American and South Korean military movements in the region and improve its nuclear-attack capabilities. But both times, the rockets malfunctioned and failed to thrust the Malligyong-1, the North’s first homemade military spy satellite, into orbit.
North Korea later confirmed Tuesday’s rocket launch, saying it had finally succeeded in placing the satellite in orbit after the two failed attempts.
And this time, by receiving assistance from Russia, the North was able to overcome its technological shortcomings, according to South Korean officials who have monitored its launch preparations in Tongchang-ri in recent weeks.
After studying the debris of a previous failed launch, South Korea said that the North Korean satellite was so crude that it could never serve as a functioning spy satellite even if placed in orbit.
Still, the launching Tuesday was a proud moment for the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who watched the blastoff at the scene of the launch. Modernizing his country’s military strength has been his main selling point as its leader. Buoyed by the success, the North’s space agency will ask the ruling Workers’ Party to support its plan to send more spy satellites into space, the North Korean news agency said.