North Korea's Unha-3 Rocket Launch Fails

"Bright Shining Star" satellite burns brightly before falling into Yellow Sea

2 min read

North Korea's controversial Unha-3 rocket launched today and exploded about a minute into flight.

According to the New York Times:

On Friday, the satellite disintegrated in a different kind of fireworks. The rocket carrying it exploded midair about one minute after the liftoff, according to American, South Korean and Japanese officials. The rocket and satellite — which cost the impoverished country an estimated $450 million to build, according to South Korean government estimates — splintered into many pieces and plunged into the gray blue waters of the Yellow Sea.

The launch, timed to honor the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth, created tremendous international tension. Some countries, including the US, Britain, South Korea, and Japan had protested the launch as a violation of UN resolutions on nuclear and missile activity. The worry was that the satellite could be a cover for long-range missiles testing. North Korea maintained that it was an observation satellite, and that it would "improve the nation's faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside," The Guardian reported.

Airline flights were rerouted to avoid the rocket, and ships were warned to stay out of areas where debris might fall. In addition, Japan and South Korea were prepared to shoot down any part of the rocket that could fall in their territories, an action that North Korea's foreign ministry warned would be considered a declaration of war, The Guardian also reported.

In his blog about North Korea, Marcus Noland, deputy director and senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, provided some pungent insights moments after the flaming debris was quenched in the cold waters of the Yellow Sea:

Publicized in advance, coming at the time of celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founding leader and grandfather of newly installed leader Kim Jong-un,  it is hard to imagine a greater humiliation. The regime even had the nerve to up the ante by inviting a gaggle of foreign press to visit the launch site and missile command and control center. In the hours after the launch, a number were broadcasting from Pyongyang about the fact that their briefers were missing in action and an eerie silence had descended. Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment.

Spectrum contributor James Oberg is in South Korea, and will be providing his analysis soon.

This animation shows the trajectory of the launch.

Video courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc.

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