North Korea's spy satellite launch fails, plunging rocket into ocean

North Korea wants to be able to observe joint drills the U.S. holds with South Korea. it plans to attempt a second launch soon.

A Planet Labs image showing activity at a North Korean launch site
Planet Labs PBC / AP

North Korea attempted to launch its first spy satellite Tuesday, but the rocket malfunctioned during launch and state news reported it went into the water off the western coast of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea said it planned to make a second launch after it diagnosed the problems with its first attempt.  

The country says it wants to use a surveillance satellite to monitor military exercises the U.S. holds with South Korea.

North Korean officials warned Japan that a launch could come any time between May 31 and June 11, and could affect nearby waters. Japan planned to shoot down any launch vehicle or satellite that entered its territory.

It's not clear if any satellite would be advanced enough to observe military activities from orbit. Other nations have also criticized North Korea for using the launch as a pretext to test ballistic missile technologies.

Satellite images from Tuesday showed activity at a North Korean satellite launch platform, including the presence of objects that could be part of a launch vehicle.

North Korea launched Earth-observing satellites in 2012 and 2016, but it was never clear if they had the capabilities to do their stated work.

South Korean president warns Congress of North Korean nuclear threat
South Korean president warns Congress of North Korean nuclear threat

South Korean president warns Congress of North Korean nuclear threat

South Korean President President Yoon Suk Yeol warned of global threats while praising the alliance between the U.S. and Korea.


Since 2022, North Korea has tested some 100 missiles, including what it says are simulated attacks on South Korean targets, and long-range ICBMs that could reach the U.S. North Korea says the tests are in response to military exercises in South Korea, and uses the drills as justification to progress its own nuclear program.

The activity comes a week after South Korea and the U.S. completed a round of live-fire drills on the border with North Korea. The U.S. characterizes the drills as defensive in nature, and has expanded the joint program  in response to North Korea's new threats.

South Korea launched its first commercial satellite last week, which experts say could pave the way for better rocket technology, or spy satellites of its own.