‘No military utility’: S Korea rubbishes N Korea’s spy satellite

Analysis suggests the satellite’s reconnaissance was poor in terms of resolution and its ability to trace targets.

A photo showing the launch of North Korea's Chollima rocket. There are clouds of white smoke, and hilly islands around the launch site.
Pyongyang is determined to try a second launch after the first one ended in failure [File: KCNA via Reuters]

South Korea has said its analysis of the wreckage from a North Korean spy satellite that crashed into the sea suggests the equipment had no meaningful military use.

Pyongyang launched what it said was its first military spy satellite on May 31, but the rocket crashed soon after takeoff, plunging into the sea off South Korea’s west coast.

South Korea’s military began a salvage operation almost immediately, retrieving debris from the rocket as well as the satellite itself in a complex operation involving aircraft, the navy and deep sea divers.

The parts were analysed by experts in South Korea and the United States, the defence ministry in Seoul said on Wednesday.

They “evaluated it had no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite at all”, the ministry said after the 36-day salvage operation came to an end.

The initial assessment indicated the satellite’s reconnaissance was poor in terms of resolution and its ability to trace targets, said Lee Choon-geun, an expert at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

South Korean divers salvaging what is suspected to be the debris from the North Korean launch
The complex salvage operation lasted 36 days [File: South Korea Defence Ministry via Reuters]

Sending a military spy satellite into orbit is a key element of the military modernisation plan of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who has said it is necessary to boost monitoring of the US.

Following a rare admission of failure, Pyongyang has said it will carry out another satellite launch.

Nuclear-armed North Korea has been pursuing a satellite launch programme since the 1990s.

In 2012 and 2016, North Korea launched objects that remain in orbit. Pyongyang has said they are observation satellites but there has been no confirmation they are functioning or transmitting signals.

The May launch was widely condemned by South Korea, Japan, and countries in the West as a violation of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang rejects such criticism as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defence and space exploration.

Source: News Agencies