North Korea Claims It Launched First Spy Satellite Into Orbit—After Two Failed Attempts


North Korea claimed it successfully launched what is believed to be its first spy satellite into orbit Tuesday night, reportedly with the help of Russia, after two earlier attempts in May and August failed—prompting Japan to warn residents in the south to take shelter and drawing condemnations from the United States.

Key Facts

The North Korean government’s claim has not been confirmed.

North Korean state news agency KCNA reported the country’s space agency will send more spy satellites soon to survey South Korea and other regions of interest for the country’s military, according to Reuters.

Both Japan and South Korea spotted the launch and believe it was a military spy satellite from North Korea’s main space center, the Associated Press reported.

Japan issued a brief advisory to residents in the southern prefecture of Okinawa to take shelter in case the launch—which was aimed south—was actually a ballistic missile, NBC News reported.

The rocket flew over international waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and over Okinawa, then toward the Pacific Ocean, South Korean and Japanese assessments found, according to the Associated Press.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the launch violated UN Security Council resolutions, and was a safety threat to the people of Japan, Reuters reported.

North Korea had previously told Japan it was planning to launch a satellite between Wednesday and December 1, Reuters reported, and neither Japan nor South Korea have confirmed if the satellite has entered orbit.

South Korean officials said this third spy satellite launch attempt was done with the help of Russia, multiple outlets reported.

Chief Critic

The U.S. condemned North Korea for “using ballistic missile technology” to launch the space launch vehicle. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called it “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” that “raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond.”

Key Background

North Korea has periodically launched missiles for years, earning condemnation from Japan and South Korea—and both countries’ ally, the United States. The North Korean regime has sought to boost its military, building longer-range missiles and nuclear weapons. Under UN Security Council resolutions agreed to by Russia, North Korea is not allowed to launch space rockets due to previously using the technology to develop the country’s long-range ballistic missile capabilities, according to the New York Times. North Korea is also not allowed to receive help from other countries on its nuclear and space rocket technology, and other countries cannot buy weapons from North Korea. After a first failed attempt to launch a spy satellite in May, North Korea launched another failed attempt in August, and said it would try again in October. The latest attempted satellite launch went against multiple warnings from South Korea, Japan and the U.S. On Monday, South Korea warned North Korea not to launch the satellite, pointing to a 2018 military agreement to reduce tensions between the two countries, NBC News reported. KCNA wrote Tuesday that the country had a “sovereign right” to improve its military power against the space surveillance network led by the U.S.


At a meeting in September between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian president said the country would help North Korea build its satellite capabilities, Reuters reported. Russia’s involvement with North Korea’s satellite program is part of a growing partnership between the two countries that South Korean officials say also involved North Korea sending artillery shells and other munitions to Russia amid its war in Ukraine, according to New York Times.

Further Reading

North Korea Launches Rocket With Its First Spy Satellite (New York Times)

North Korea launches suspected spy satellite, its neighbors say (NBC News)

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