Seoul, South Korea
North Korea’s attempt to put a military reconnaissance satellite in space failed Wednesday when the second stage of the rocket malfunctioned, state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, adding that Pyongyang planned to carry out a second launch as soon as possible.
“The new satellite vehicle rocket, Chollima-1, crashed into the West Sea as it lost propulsion due to an abnormal startup of the engine on the 2nd stage after the 1st stage was separated during normal flight,” KCNA said.
The report said “the reliability and stability of the new engine system” was “low” and the fuel used “unstable,” leading to the mission’s failure.
North Korea’s National Space Development Agency said it would investigate the failure “urgently” and carry out another launch after new testing, KCNA reported.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said it identified an object presumed to be part of what North Korea claims to be its space launch vehicle in the sea about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Eocheong Island at around 8:05 a.m. and is in the process of obtaining it.
Earlier, South Korea’s military said Pyongyang fired a “space projectile,” triggering emergency alerts in Seoul and Japan, weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered officials to prepare to launch the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite.
Both countries later canceled those alerts when it became clear there was no danger to civilian areas from the North Korean launch.
Analysts said Wednesday morning’s events illustrated problems for both North and South Korea, for Pyongyang in its space program and for Seoul in its public alert process.
“North Korean space efforts have consistently failed, indicating that whereas its military ballistic capabilities are being developed, its space launch capabilities are not proceeding at the same pace of development,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at The Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“That is curious because space launch capabilities and ballistic missile systems are essentially similar technologies in many respects, and North Korean testing of ballistic missile systems have been more successful,” Davis said.
North Korea has performed dozens of ballistic missile tests over the past two years, which analysts have said have shown a maturation in the program.
The test of a new solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April showed that Pyongyang could launch the missiles more quickly in the event of any nuclear confrontation, analysts said.
The North Korean launch sparked air raid sirens around Seoul about 6:30 a.m., causing confusion among residents who are used to pre-announced tests of the warning system in the middle of the day.
The sirens were followed by a “Presidential Alert” text sent to cell phones, telling people to prepare to seek shelter. While the title of the alert was in English, the text was in Korean, possibly adding to the confusion.
The alert was canceled about 20 minutes after it was issued.
Who implemented the alert remains uncertain. The Interior Ministry said it was issued by the Seoul city government in error.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon apologized to the citizens for “causing confusion” over sending a citywide alert, adding that efforts will be made to refine the system to avoid similar situations.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said any criticism of government leaders for the alert may be unwarranted.
“The government would receive more criticism if it did not make every effort for public safety,” Easley said.
In fact, he said the alert could help shake South Korean residents from complacency about the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s missile programs.
“The Yoon administration will likely promise improvements to the alert system but may also expect that greater awareness of the North Korean threat will increase support for the government’s military deterrence policies,” Easley said.
Both the South Korean and Japanese governments condemned the North Korean launch as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“Whether it was a success or not (it was) a serious provocation that threatens peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” according to a statement from Yoon’s office.
In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Tokyo “vehemently protested” to North Korea. He promised continued “vigilance and surveillance” from the Japanese government.
Japan’s Defense Ministry had warned on Monday it would destroy any North Korean missile that entered its territory after Pyongyang notified the country of plans to launch a “satellite.”