North Korea Claims Success with Military Satellite Launch

North Korea Claims Success with Military Satellite Launch

North Korea claimed that it successfully launched a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit on November 21. The United States condemned the launch and a statement from the Department of Defense referred to it as an “attempted space launch,” suggesting it did not achieve orbit, although by November 22 amateur satellite observers reported that two objects were being tracked by DOD. North Korea’s two prior satellite launch attempts this year failed.

Citing North Korea’s KCNA state news agency, Reuters reported that the launch of the Malligyong-1 reconnaissance satellite took place from Sohae satellite launch site on November 21 at 10:42 pm local time (8:42 am Eastern Standard Time) and entered orbit 12 minutes later.

North Korea had notified Japan in advance that a satellite launch was planned between Wednesday and December 1,  but it took place more than an hour before that window opened.

The White House National Security Council (NSC) condemned the launch, which violates United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK’s) development of technologies applicable to ballistic missiles.

The United States strongly condemns the DPRK for its launch of a space launch vehicle (SLV) using ballistic missile technology, which is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond.  This space launch involved technologies that are directly related to the DPRK intercontinental ballistic missile program.  The President and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with our allies and partners.  We urge all countries to condemn this launch and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations.  The door has not closed on diplomacy but Pyongyang must immediately cease its provocative actions and instead choose engagement.  The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and the defense of our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies. — NSC Spokesperson Adrienne Watson, November 21, 2023

South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reported that South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the “North Korea’s military satellite launch constitutes a provocative act that blatantly violates the U.N. Security Council Resolutions prohibiting its use of ballistic missile technology as well as scientific and technological cooperation.”

Later in the day, just after 6:00 pm EST, DOD issued a statement that Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner had spoken with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts about the “attempted space launch,” calling into question North Korea’s assertion that it was a success.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner spoke today in separate calls with Republic of Korea (ROK) Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy Heo Taekeun and with Japan Director-General for Defense Policy Kano Koji.  The officials discussed and strongly condemned the DPRK’s November 21 attempted space launch using ballistic missile technology as a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

Assistant Secretary Ratner reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. extended deterrence commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan.  The officials each affirmed the important achievements of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship over the past year, including the Camp David Trilateral Summit and the goals that the Secretary and his counterparts achieved and reaffirmed during their Trilateral Ministerial Meeting on November 13. — DOD press release November 21, 2023

On November 22, however, amateur satellite observers posted on X (formerly Twitter) that two objects were being tracked as catalogued by DOD. DOD has a public website,, that publishes Two Line Element (TLE) sets for most space objects. Using that data and their own analysis, possible trajectories could be calculated.

Here is my rough first cut at the trajectories of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd stages, with direction change for each stage to avoid overflying China

North Korea successfully orbited two earth observation satellites in 2012 and 2016 respectively.

Two prior North Korean satellite launch attempts this year failed in May and August.  In September, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un was a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin at Russia’s Vostochny launch site in Siberia. Multiple news sources reported that the visit was part of an exchange between Putin, who wanted North Korean munitions to fight the war in Ukraine, and Kim, who was seeking technical assistance to launch satellites.

The foreign ministers of the G7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — and the High Representative of the European Union issued a statement on November 22 condemning North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology: “Any launch using ballistic missile technology, even if it is characterized as a military reconnaissance satellite, constitutes a clear, flagrant violation of relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).”

They also condemned arms transfers from North Korea to Russia and expressed concern about transfer of nuclear or ballistic missile-related technology to North Korea: “…we reiterate our strong condemnation on arms transfers from North Korea to Russia, which directly violate relevant UNSCRs. We urge North Korea and Russia to abide by these UNSCRs and immediately cease all such activities. In addition, we are deeply concerned about the potential for any transfer of nuclear- or ballistic missile-related technology to North Korea, which would further threaten the peace and stability of the region as well as across the globe.”

On November 24, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a trilateral call with his counterparts in South Korea and Japan, all of whom “strongly condemned that launch for its destabilizing effect on the region” and Blinken “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitments to the defense of the ROK and Japan.”


This article has been updated several times as new information becomes available.

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