North Korea’s second space launch ends in failure

The attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit coincided with US-South Korea military drills

A spy satellite launched by North Korea in the early hours of Thursday has failed to reach orbit due to an error, the state news agency KCNA reported, citing Pyongyang’s space agency. The launch caused Seoul to go on alert as it happened during the ongoing joint war games with the US.

According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the launch was detected around 3:50 am local time from the Tongchang-ri site on the west coast of North Korea. The rocket’s path took it over the Yellow Sea, southwest of Jeju Island. 

The South Korean military is “maintaining a full readiness posture” in “close cooperation with the US,” the JCS said.

North Korea routinely tests ballistic and cruise missiles without notifying the South or Japan. This time, however, Pyongyang had notified Tokyo that it was planning a “space launch vehicle” takeoff between Thursday and August 31, and designated three maritime danger zones ahead of time. 

It was the second attempt by North Korea to put the Malligyong-1 military spy satellite into orbit. The first launch, at the end of May, resulted in failure after the “abnormal start” of the second-stage booster on the Chollima-1 rocket. The North Korean space agency said it would make another attempt in October, according to KCNA.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the US kicked off their annual Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) drills on Monday. The 11-day joint military exercise has been condemned by Pyongyang as rehearsal for invasion. The state-run media in Pyongyang claimed that the drills were making a “thermonuclear war” in the region more likely. Washington and Seoul, however, insist that their wargames are purely defensive. 

A state of war still technically exists between Pyongyang on one side and Washington and Seoul on the other, since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War was never followed up by a peace treaty. The US has around 30,000 troops garrisoned in South Korea.

North Korea has accused Washington of plotting “regime change” in Pyongyang and not engaging in peace talks in good faith. It is not a question whether a nuclear war will break out on the peninsula, only who will start it and when, North Korean Defense Minister General Kang Sun-nam warned earlier this month.

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