Failed DPRK satellite was not fit for purpose, investigators find

According to statements from South Korean investigators, the failed North Korean spy satellite was below par for its intended purpose as a military spy satellite.
Christopher McFadden

According to various news outlets, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) failed satellite wasn't advanced enough for its advertised use for military surveillance. This news comes from reports by South Korean military spokespersons after they retrieved significant parts of the wreckage.

The satellite failed to reach orbit in May

In late May of this year, the DPRK attempted to launch its first spy satellite. Unfortunately, the long-range rocket carrying it plunged into the waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula shortly after liftoff. The purpose of the satellite, allegedly, was to contribute to a space-based reconnaissance system that North Korea claims is necessary to address growing security concerns posed by the United States and South Korea.

North Korea has been working on a satellite launch program since the 1990s. In 2012 and 2016, North Korea launched objects into orbit which they claimed were observation satellites. However, there is no confirmation whether these satellites were operational or transmitting signals.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea reported conducting a 36-day operation to retrieve debris from a rocket and satellite using navy ships, aircraft, and divers. According to an official statement, the operation concluded on Wednesday (5th June); the South Korean and US experts who conducted a joint examination on recovered parts of the rocket and satellite found that the satellite was not equipped for military reconnaissance activities.

They identified several crucial components that were retrieved from the wreckage. As you can expect, the announcement made by South Korea did not receive an immediate response from North Korea. According to North Korea's state media, the rocket launch failed due to a loss of thrust after separating its first and second stages, ultimately crashing into the sea. The ruling party recently deemed this failed launch "the most serious" shortcoming of the year and strongly criticized those held responsible.

North Korean officials have since made it clear that they intend to make another attempt at a launch after identifying the issues that caused the previous one to fail. The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has emphasized the importance of obtaining a military spy satellite to enhance his country's defense capabilities. He has also stated the need for advanced weaponry, including multi-warhead nuclear missiles, solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear-powered submarines.

The international community is concerned

Months before its failed satellite launch, North Korea launched a test satellite and publicized photos showing South Korean cities as viewed from space. Some civilian experts said at the time the photos were too crude for surveillance purposes and that they were likely capable of only recognizing big targets like warships at sea or military installations on the ground.

North Korea responded to that skepticism by saying there was no reason to use a sophisticated camera for one test. The US, South Korea, and others denounced North Korea’s rocket launch as a security risk and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban the country’s use of ballistic missile technology.