North Korea launches spy satellite

In its third attempt this year to launch a spy satellite, North Korea today succeeded at last, its new Chollima-1 rocket lifting off from Sohae spaceport on the country’s western coast and placing in orbit what is probably a relatively primitive spy satellite with a limited lifespan.

Though launched on the coast, the flight path crossed over North Korea, with drop zones for the rocket’s lower stages in the Yellow and East China seas. The previous two launch failures (in May and August) did the same, with South Korea salvaging stages and the satellite from the first failure. The data recovered suggested the spy satellite was of “no military utility” according to the South Korean military.

As usual, U.S. and South Korean officials condemned the launch, calling it a violation of UN sanctions. Note too that this was not North Korea’s first successful launch, having managed launches in 2012 and 2016 previously, with a different rocket.

Because this was North Korea’s first success in 2023, the leader broad in the 2023 launch race remains unchanged:

86 SpaceX
52 China
14 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

However, the launch was the 180th in 2023, setting a new global record for the launches in a single year, eclipsing the record set last year. Since Sputnik in 1957 the average number of successful launches globally was generally less than a hundred. This year it is very possible the world will double that average, almost entirely because of American private enterprise, which leads China 98 to 52 in successful launches, and the entire world combined 98 to 82. SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world (excluding American companies) 86 to 82.

North Korea announces it will attempt orbital launch of spy satellite this week

North Korea has announced that it will make a third attempt to place a spy satellite into orbit this week, lifting off anytime between November 22nd and December 1st, with drop zones of the rocket’s lower stages over the Yellow and East China seas.

The North initially planed to make the third launch attempt in October following two botched launches — in August and May. But it did not press ahead with the plan last month, raising speculation that it might need more preparation time.

As expected, South Korea has protested. It is also likely gearing up to attempt to recover as much debris from the launch as possible, as it did successfully on the previous launches.

North Korea fails again to get a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit

According to a report in North Korea’s state run press, a launch attempt of its new rocket Chollima-1 rocket failed to reach orbit at dawn today, its payload of a classified military reconnaissance satellite falling into the ocean.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang reported that the National Aerospace Development Administration launched the new Chollima-1 rocket “at dawn” August 24 from the Sohae Satellite Launch Center. The first and second stages worked as planned, but “the launch failed due to an error in the emergency blasting system during the third stage flight” according to KCNA.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency identified the satellite as Malligyong-1, a military reconnaissance satellite and reported the launch time as 3:50 am local time (2:50 pm August 23 EDT).

The flight path can be found here. An earlier attempt in May failed also, but the cause was not specified. South Korea did recover the first stage and satellite from the May failure, claiming later the satellite had “no military utility.”

I expect South Korea to once again attempt recovery operations, but because the rocket traveled farther I also expect the chances of any recovery of material to be more unlikely.