Contradicting North Korea's assertions, the second-stage flight of the country's space launch vehicle, which was carrying a purported spy satellite, exhibited anomalies during a second launch on Thursday, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said Friday.
Lee publicly dismissed Pyongyang's claims that the first and second-stage flights of a satellite launch vehicle Chollima-1, which was carrying the Malligyong-1 military reconnaissance satellite, operated successfully.
North Korea maintained that a "malfunction in the emergency explosion system" during the third-stage flight led to the failure, likely alluding to the malfunction of the flight termination system attached to the launch vehicle.
During a plenary session of the National Assembly's Defense Committee, Lee said that in contrast to the first launch on May 31, the ignition of the second-stage engine was successful this time.
The South Korean defense chief acknowledged the advancements North Korea has achieved since May when a second-stage engine malfunction resulted in a failure. However, he emphasized that it remains challenging to categorize the second-stage flight as a success.
"The second-stage flight exhibited some abnormalities," Lee told lawmakers. "We have some evidence to substantiate this assessment. However, arriving at a definitive conclusion will require more time."
Lee explained that South Korea's state-run Agency for Defense Development and US experts have been conducting an analysis to that end.
Speaking at the National Assembly, Lee also disclosed that Seoul and Washington have been engaged in collaborative efforts to locate and salvage launch debris. But as of Friday morning, the South Korean Navy has yet to identify any such debris in the West Sea.
In a separate documented assessment, the Defense Ministry said that North Korea's second hasty attempt to launch a purported spy satellite was primarily motivated by the political objectives of the Kim Jong-un regime
The ministry assessed that Pyongyang's original intention was to showcase the satellite launch as a "historic achievement" of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, particularly in light of the absence of any achievements in the country's economic sector.
The Defense Ministry explained that the second launch aimed to "compensate for the first failed attempt in May and promptly fulfill tasks outlined by Kim Jong-un in January 2021, in the context of challenges faced by the country in achieving progress in both the betterment of their people's lives and the economic sector."
The North Korean leader delineated a five-year national defense development plan during the Eighth Party Congress held in January 2021. The plan included a roster of weaponry, including a military reconnaissance satellite, to be developed within a designated time frame.
"We also assess that the rapid relaunch aimed to showcase determination and capabilities in response to the South Korea-US alliance and the trilateral coordination among South Korea, the US, and Japan," the ministry told lawmakers.
The ministry pointed out that the latest satellite launch occurred during the 11-day Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise, a joint and combined military exercise between South Korea and the US. Furthermore, the satellite launch closely followed the Camp David summit on Aug. 18, where leaders from South Korea, the U, and Japan reaffirmed their dedication to enhancing security and military cooperation to counter the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea.
The ministry referred to a past instance when North Korea took eight months to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite following its unsuccessful attempt in April 2012.
The Defense Ministry further evaluated that North Korea's prompt acknowledgment of the satellite launch failure was influenced by the expectation that its unsuccessful attempt would eventually be revealed through the analysis conducted by intelligence agencies in South Korea and the US.
North Korea swiftly admitted its failure, offering explanations for the primary reason, and disclosed its intention to pursue a third satellite launch in October through the Korean Central News Agency, which mainly targets international audiences. The statement was issued at around 06:15 a.m., roughly two and a half hours subsequent to the launch.
Similarly, after its initial failed launch on May 31, North Korea acknowledged the failure around 2 hours and 40 minutes later through the KCNA.
However, it's noteworthy that North Korea has not communicated its second failed attempt to its domestic population. As of Friday afternoon, state media with a domestic focus has remained silent on the matter.