North Korea conducts rocket launch in likely 2nd attempt to put spy satellite into orbit

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says that its second recent attempt to launch a spy satellite has failed.

The announcement followed a statement by South Korea’s military that North Korea had launched a long-range rocket.

In late May, a North Korean rocket carrying a spy satellite plunged into the sea soon after liftoff, posing a setback to leader Kim Jong Un’s push to establish a space-based surveillance system to better monitor the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea had since vowed to make a second attempt.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket in a southern direction on Thursday, South Korea’s military said, in the North’s likely second recent attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch involved what the North called “a space launch vehicle.”

It said South Korea detected the rocket flying above international waters off the Korean Peninsula’s west coast after its liftoff at the North’s northwestern Tongchang-ri area at 3:50 a.m. The site is where North Korea’s main space launch center is located. The North made a failed launch of a spy satellite there in late May.

South Korea’s military said it has bolstered its surveillance posture and was in close coordination with the United States.

On Tuesday, Japan’s coast guard said North Korean authorities notified it about a plan to launch a satellite at some time from Aug. 24 through Aug. 30. Coast guard spokesperson Hiromune Kikuchi said the notice didn’t specify the type of satellite, but that he believed it would be similar to North Korea’s May launch.

On May 31, a North Korean rocket carrying a spy satellite plunged into the sea soon after liftoff, posing a setback to leader Kim Jong Un’s push to establish a space-based surveillance system to better monitor the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea had since vowed to make a second attempt.

After the first launch attempt, North Korea made an unusually quick admission of failure, saying its newly developed Chollima-1 rocket lost thrust between launch stages and crashed into the sea. The North’s ruling party leadership described the failed launch as a serious setback in the country’s efforts to bolster its military capabilities amid tensions with rivals.

South Korea’s military recovered some of the debris after the failed launch and said in early July that the North Korean satellite wasn’t advanced enough to conduct military reconnaissance.

South Korea, the U.S. and others have still condemned the May launch for raising tensions and violating U.N. Security Council resolutions that banned the country from using ballistic missile technology.

Thursday’s launch came three days after the U.S. and South Korean militaries kicked off annual military drills that North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the 11-day U.S.-South Korean exercises are increasing the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula. It said the current situation is compelling North Korea to take “offensive, overwhelming” steps, but didn’t elaborate.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers last week it spotted signs that North Korean is preparing for the test-flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles and other provocative weapons. On Monday, KCNA said Kim had observed the test firings of strategic cruise missiles.

Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-fired around 100 missiles in a torrid run of military demonstrations. Along with the North’s testing activity, the combined military U.S.-South Korea military exercises have intensified recently in a tit-for-tat cycle.

North Korea says its weapons testing is part of efforts to bolster its nuclear deterrent to counter increasing U.S.-led military threats. But many experts say North Korea aims to modernize its weapons arsenal to boost its leverage to wrest greater concessions in future diplomacy with the U.S.

A spy satellite is among an array of high-tech weapons systems Kim has publicly vowed to acquire.

After repeated failures, North Korea successfully put its first satellite into orbit in 2012, and the second one in 2016. North Korea said both are Earth observation satellites launched under its peaceful space development program, but many foreign experts believed they were developed to spy on its rivals.

Observers say there has been no evidence that both satellites have ever transmitted imagery back to North Korea. But those satellite launches were still believed to have improved North Korea’s long-range missile technology.

Since 2017, North Korea has performed a slew of intercontinental ballistic missile tests, demonstrating its potential ability to send missiles anywhere in the continental U.S. But experts say North Korea still has some technological hurdles to clear before obtaining functioning nuclear missiles, such as manufacturing warheads small enough to be topped on missiles and ensuring those warheads would withstand the severe conditions of atmospheric reentry.

The U.N. Security Council imposed economic sanctions on North Korea over its satellite launches in previous years, seeing them as covers for long-range ballistic missile tests. But the U.N. council failed to adopt further sanctions over the North’s recent series of missile launches because permanent veto-wielding members Russia and China oppose them, underscoring a divide that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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