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North Korea says first spy satellite crashes into sea after launch, admits failure

North Korea said its attempt to put the country's first spy satellite into orbit failed Wednesday, an apparent embarrassment to leader Kim Jong Un over his push to boost his military capability in the protracted security tensions with the United States and South Korea. 

The statement published in state media said the rocket carrying the satellite crashed into waters off the Korean Peninsula's western coast after it lost thrust following the separation of its first and second stages. It said scientists were examining the cause of the failure and vowed that authorities would "conduct the second launch as soon as possible." 

The admission marked a rare instance of North Korea admitting a military failure. 

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the launch took place at about 6:29 a.m. local time Wednesday from the North Pyongan Province and that the projectile traveled south. It flew over South Korea's Baengnyeong Island, which is located in the Yellow Sea between North and South Korea. 

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff described the projectile as "flying an abnormal flight," and said it fell into the sea about 200 km (124 miles) west of South Korea's Eocheong island. It later said that it had "salvaged an object presumed to be part of the 'North Korean space launch vehicle.'"

Following the launch, officials in South Korea's capital of Seoul sent alerts over public speakers and smartphones for residents to prepare for evacuation, but there were no immediate reports of damages or disruption, and Seoul later lifted the alert.

The Japanese government also activated a missile warning system for its Okinawa prefecture in southwestern Japan, initially believed to be in the path of the rocket.

"Please evacuate into buildings or underground," the alert said. Authorities later lifted the calls for evacuation.

North Korea notified Japan on Monday that it would launch a satellite at some point between May 31 and June 11, Japan's International Maritime Organization said in a statement. 

In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said the U.S. "strongly condemns" North Korea "for its launch using ballistic missile technology, which is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions." 

Hodge said the move "raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond."

"The door has not closed on diplomacy but Pyongyang must immediately cease its provocative actions and instead choose engagement," he added, calling on all countries to condemn the launch. 

It is not clear if a North Korean spy satellite would significantly bolster its defenses. The satellite disclosed in the country's state-run media didn't appear to be sophisticated enough to produce high-resolution imagery. But some experts note that it is still likely capable of detecting troop movements and big targets, such as warships and warplanes.

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the North's main rocket launch center in the northwest showed active construction activities indicating that North Korea plans to launch more than one satellite, however.

And in his statement Tuesday, Ri Pyong Chol, a close associate of leader Kim Jong Un, said the country it would be testing "various reconnaissance means."

He said those surveillance assets are tasked with "tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling" and responding, both in advance and real time, to moves by the United States and its allies.

With three to five spy satellites, North Korea could build a space-based surveillance system that allows it to monitor the Korean Peninsula in near real-time, according to Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea's Science and Technology Policy Institute.

During his visit to the country's aerospace agency earlier this month, Kim emphasized the strategic significance a spy satellite could have in North Korea's standoff with the U.S. and South Korea.

The satellite is one several high-tech weapons systems that Kim has publicly vowed to introduce in recent years. Other weapons he has pledged to develop include a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile and a hypersonic missile.

Denuclearization talks with the U.S. have been stalled since early 2019. In the meantime, Kim has focused on expanding his nuclear and missile arsenals in what experts say is an attempt to wrest concessions from Washington and Seoul. Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, many of them involving nuclear-capable weapons targeting the U.S. mainland, South Korea and Japan.

North Korea says its testing activities are self-defense measures meant to respond to expanded military drills between Washington and Seoul that it views as invasion rehearsals. U.S. and South Korean officials say their drills are defensive and they've bolstered them to cope with growing nuclear threats by North Korea.

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