June 01, 2023 11:20
The South Korean military on Wednesday salvaged debris from a North Korean rocket carrying a purported military spy satellite only an hour after the rocket crashed into the West Sea.
A search party found a large cylindrical object with a diameter of about 3 m floating in the sea, which is presumed to be the first or second stage of the rocket. Divers were dispatched to search a wider area for more pieces. If more parts are found, they will provide valuable insights into the level of the North's satellite and long-range ballistic missile technologies.
"Analysis of the debris will make it possible to understand some details, such as how big the launch vehicle was, whether it used liquid or solid fuel, and what the North's level of rocket and satellite technology is," said Yang Uk of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "It'll also be possible to establish if components were made with North Korea's own technology or they were Chinese or Russian-made."
When the rocket vanished from radar on Wednesday morning, the military immediately began tracking it with other reconnaissance assets. The Joint Chiefs of Staff dispatched a salvage crew the moment the rocket plunged into waters about 200 km west of Eocheong Island. A patrol boat on surveillance duty along the western coast sailed to the expected drop point and found the object around 8:05 a.m.
That was much faster than the four days it took to find debris of a North Korean missile that had flown across the de facto maritime border and fallen into the East Sea off Sokcho, Gangwon Province last year.
In a report to the National Assembly, the National Intelligence Service speculated that the rocket's failure was caused by North Korean engineers trying to change its trajectory. Another possibility is that the North hastened the launch after South Korea successfully launched a space rocket and placed eight satellites in orbit last week.
The North has successfully tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are essentially the same as a space launch vehicle. But Tuesday's failure suggests that the technology is not perfect yet.
Pyongyang has pledged to conduct another launch as soon as possible, but it will probably take several weeks to fix any engine problems, the NIS said.
Some experts speculate that it might still be possible to attempt a second launch before June 11, when the launch window the North had announced closes.
An urgent meeting of the National Security Council warned that the latest launch is "a grave violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a severe provocation," regardless of whether it succeeded or not.
The same day, the International Maritime Organization adopted its first resolution condemning North Korea's rocket launch. The resolution, which is not legally binding, was adopted by a majority of over 100 countries at the IMO's latest session in London and denounced the launch which "seriously threatened the safety of seafarers and international shipping."
North Korea immediately rejected the resolution and responded that its missile tests "constitute routine and planned self-defensive measures taken by a sovereign state to defend the national security."
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