North Korea Give Notice of Plan to Launch Spy Satellite into Orbit

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea has given Japan notice that it plans to launch a rocket by June 4 to deploy a satellite, signaling it will attempt to send a second spy probe into orbit months after its first successful launch.

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Officials from Japan, the US and South Korea held talks and called on North Korea to halt the launch, which it says helps Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program and is a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Monday in a statement.

North Korea typically sends notice ahead of launches that point out where rocket stages may fall along a southerly path over the Yellow Sea and waters near the Philippines. Pyongyang says it has a right to conduct a civilian space program.

South Korea conducted an air exercise near its border with North Korea in a show of force hours after Japan received the notification. The drills comprised about 20 fighters including F-35A stealth jets, South Korea’s military said in a notice sent to reporters.

Pyongyang had two failed attempts prior to the launch in November that successfully deployed a satellite. North Korea claims the probe it put into orbit has taken photos of sites including the White House.

South Korea has questioned the operational capability of a satellite it believes to be rudimentary at best. Kim Jong Un’s regime has said it wants to use spy satellites to keep an eye on US forces in the region, and the probes could help it in its targeting as it steps up its ability to deliver a nuclear strike.

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Pyongyang’s space program has diminished in importance over the years as the state greatly enhanced its ability to build intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could strike the US.

That trend started to change last year when Kim made placing spy satellites in orbit a priority. He went to Russia in September to meet President Vladimir Putin, who pledged to assist Pyongyang with its space program.

The US and others have accused Kim of sending massive amounts of munitions to Putin to help in his war on Ukraine in return for aid that is advancing North Korea’s military and economy. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the claims.

After the summit last year, a large number of Russian experts went to North Korea to help with satellite development, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported over the weekend, citing a senior defense official it did not name.

North Korea has conducted multiple rocket engine tests since then, likely to meet the standards of the visiting Russian technicians, Yonhap cited the official as saying. The report did not say how many Russian experts have visited or when exactly any visit took place.

One problem that has plagued Kim’s space program has been stage separation, which caused two missions to fail last year and led to rocket debris falling into the sea. South Korea fished out a North Korean satellite from Yellow Sea waters some 70 meters (230 feet) deep, which gave it a rare look at the state of Pyongyang’s technology.

Read more: South Korea Salvages North’s Satellite in Intelligence Win

The launch notification comes after China, Japan and South Korea held their first three-way summit since 2019. Tokyo and Seoul have long encouraged China to use its role as the biggest benefactor to Pyongyang to rein in Kim’s atomic ambitions.

Read more: China Discusses Supply Chains With US Allies Japan, South Korea

Kim aims to launch three spy satellites in 2024, the official Korean Central News Agency reported after a policy-setting meeting of top officials in the last days of December.

By placing another spy satellite into orbit, the North Korean leader can demonstrate to his top cadres and his people that the country’s military is making great strides in keeping an eye on the US, reinforcing the message in propaganda that its expansion is essential to prevent an invasion from American forces.

--With assistance from Soo-Hyang Choi and Sam Kim.

(Updates with South Korean military drill, details.)

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