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Why does North Korea want a spy satellite so badly, and what went wrong with its attempt to launch one?

North Korean spy satellite launch fails
North Korean spy satellite launch fails 05:12

Tokyo — North Korea said its attempt to put the country's first spy satellite into orbit failed on Wednesday. Here's why that matters:

Why does North Korea want a surveillance satellite?

In short, to keep an eye on U.S. and South Korean military operations. Also, in the event of a war, a satellite would help identify targets for missiles, some of which could be nuclear tipped.

What went wrong with the Malligyong-1 satellite launch?

The satellite was being carried into orbit on a multi-stage rocket, which North Korea said was a new type, called Chollima-1. It said the second stage of the rocket ignited too early, ruining the flight, and the whole thing then splashed down into the Yellow Sea.

The North Korean government immediately said it was going to try to launch another satellite despite — or maybe because of — its dismal record.

Since 1998, Pyongyang has launched five satellites. Three failed right away, and two made it into orbit, but Western experts say they don't appear to be working, so it still has none.

Some residents of Japan and South Korea got early morning alerts about the launch. Did the missile come close to populated areas?

Millions of people certainly got a rude awakening! The military sent out alerts just two minutes after the launch, at 6:27 a.m. local time. That was very early in the rocket's flight, but they would have known it was heading south.

People in the southernmost islands of Okinawa in Japan, which lies south and a little east of the launch site, heard sirens and were warned to take shelter at 6:29 am. They got the all-clear about half an hour later.

People in South Korea's capital Seoul got a similar warning, with air raid sirens and messages on their phones, but actually Seoul was never in danger and the city apologized for the mistake.

Are there efforts to recover the debris from the sea?

Yes. The U.S. and South Korean militaries were conducting salvage exercises in the area at the time of the launch. That's either amazing luck or very clever just-in-case planning.

Less than two hours after the missile crashed, sailors aboard naval vessels were pulling pieces of it out of the sea. With North Korea saying it used a new type of rocket, analysts are going to be very keen to have a look at that. And it's unclear if the satellite itself has been retrieved, but if it has, a lot of military people will want to take a good close look at the surveillance devices it carries.

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