North Korea’s military satellite launch: five facts 2023

Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington expressed alarm Tuesday that North Korea might launch a military surveillance satellite by June 11, violating UN sanctions.

Kim Jong Un personally examined the spacecraft and approved its launch.

AFP examines our knowledge:

It’s illegal?

North Korea must “not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology” under UN sanctions.

Pyongyang has tested multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles this year, defying these limits it views as an infringement on its sovereignty.

Experts believe it has alerted foreign authorities of planned satellite launches, but never missile testing.

It warned Japan Monday it will launch one between May 31 and June 11.

Choi Gi-il, Sangji University military studies professor, claimed satellite launches and ICBMs employ “essentially the same” technology.

Satellites and missiles alike?

Experts claim rocket launches and ICBMs “require highly advanced expertise” in comparable ways.

Internal guiding systems allow ballistic missiles to depart and re-enter the atmosphere to reach Earth targets.

A rocket launches a satellite to a desired height in space, then separates, leaving the satellite in orbit and raining debris on Earth.

Han Kwon-hee of the Missile Strategy Forum told AFP that ICBMs must master re-entry to avoid warhead burnout before impact.

“Satellite rockets don’t need re-entry technology because they launch satellites above the stratosphere.”

Han claimed the North alerted Tokyo of its satellite launch due to rocket debris.

Are they experienced?

Experts claim North Korea lacks a satellite.

Pyongyang has launched five satellites since 1998, three of which failed instantly and two of which looked to have been put into orbit but never sent signals, suggesting they malfunctioned.

Last satellite launch was 2016. Pyongyang tested its first ICBM the following year.

An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who leads the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP that North Korean satellites were ICBM testing disguised as conventional satellites.

He added Pyongyang was ready to join “the so-called ‘military space era’ before Seoul does” with the launch of a state-of-the-art satellite.

Space race?

Seoul’s defense ministry told AFP it wants to launch a military satellite on a SpaceX rocket later this year.

Seoul launched its first Nuri rocket with operational satellites last month.

“Kim Jong Un has likely increased pressure on his scientists and engineers to launch a North Korean spy satellite,” said Ewha University professor Leif-Eric Easley.

North Korea may not have remote sensing technology for a reconnaissance satellite. However, even a basic sky eye might have military applications and provide domestic political value for the Kim administration.

It’ll work?

Choi of Sangji University stated ICBM re-entry into the atmosphere had failed North Korea several times.

“It is rumoured that Russia and China transferred know-how to the North, though it is not officially confirmed,” he stated.

The 2016 failed satellite launch showed North Korea’s “capability and intentions to develop longer-range ballistic missiles,” according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Han of the Missile Strategy Forum told AFP that Pyongyang wants to examine Seoul’s defenses.

Pyongyang wants to prove it can control Seoul’s nuclear deterrence through a spy satellite. They’re saying, “We’ll see you through and strike anytime.”

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