North Korea plans to launch a satellite later this month, according to Japanese media, firing off a space rocket as South Korea and the U.S. conduct joint military drills that have riled Pyongyang.
The Japanese government has received notification from North Korea that it intends to launch a satellite between Aug. 24 and Aug. 31, Kyodo News and national broadcaster NHK reported Tuesday. The Japanese Coast Guard has been notified of three possible maritime danger zones pertaining to the launch — two west of the Korean Peninsula and the third east of the Philippines’ island of Luzon, Kyodo said.
This would indicate that North Korea intends a similar, southernly flight path as was used in a failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit on May 31. In that instance, the country fired off its Chollima-1 rocket in its first space launch in about seven years, which failed a few minutes after takeoff due to apparent problems with the ignition of its second stage, sending debris into the Yellow Sea.
North Korea has bristled for decades at joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. Its state media blasted the latest exercises, known as Ulchi Freedom Shield, that started Monday and which are set to run through the end of the month.
Pyongyang threatened “to punish the hostile forces threatening the sovereignty of our state,” the state’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday, calling the drills a prelude to an invasion aimed at taking out its leaders — a refrain it has often used.
It also slammed a meeting held Friday among Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the Camp David U.S. presidential retreat in rural Maryland. KCNA said the three leaders met “to detail, plan and formulate the nuclear war provocation on the Korean Peninsula.”
The landmark meeting brought about steps to counter threats by North Korea through the real-time sharing of information on its missile launches as well as plans to bolster joint military training among the three, which in recent months has included drills to shoot down missiles and hunt for submarines.
North Korea is barred by United Nations Security Council resolutions from conducting ballistic missile tests, but Pyongyang has long claimed it’s entitled to a civilian space program for satellite launches. The U.S. and its partners have warned that technology derived from North Korea’s space program could be used to advance its ballistic missiles.
Leader Kim Jong Un has said he wants to put a spy satellite into orbit to keep an eye on U.S. forces deployed in the region. While Seoul believes such a satellite would be rudimentary at best, it could still help Pyongyang refine its targeting lists as it rolls out new missiles designed to deliver nuclear strikes in South Korea and Japan, which host the bulk of America’s military personnel in the region.
After Pyongyang’s failed launch on May 31, South Korea salvaged the spy satellite from the sea, giving it a rare direct look at Pyongyang’s capabilities even as it concluded that the technology had little military value.
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 U.S.