North Korea has announced the successful launch of the “Malligyong-1” reconnaissance satellite aboard the new Chollima-1 launch vehicle. The launch was carried out on November 21, 2023, at 13:42 UTC from the Sohae cosmodrome in North Hamgyong Province.
Launcher and Payload
The Malligyong-1, which means “Telescope-1”, is a reconnaissance satellite. The satellite has a dry mass of 300 kg and is in a sun-synchronous orbit, with a perigee altitude of 493 km and an apogee altitude of 512 km. The Chollima-1 launch vehicle has a height of 36.2 m and a diameter of 2.4 m, with a payload capacity in low earth orbit of about 300 kg. The first stage of the Chollima-1 is likely derived from the Hwasong-17 ICBM and features a four-chamber engine.
The Chollima-1 has made three launch attempts. The first two attempts, carried out respectively on May 31 and August 23, 2023, failed due to technical problems. The third attempt, carried out on November 21, 2023, was successful, marking the first successful flight of this launcher.
The U.S. Military Space Tracking Network CSpOC has published the orbits of two objects resulting from this launch, confirming North Korea’s claim of successful orbit insertion. The payload’s orbit is a sun-synchronous orbit with a repetitive ground track. It results in daily transits over Pyongyang around 10:00 and 22:00 local time, with a ground track that repeats every five days. This is consistent with a function as an optical reconnaissance satellite.
Future of North Korean space program
The successful launch of the Malligyong-1 aboard the Chollima-1 marks a significant milestone for the North Korean space program. This space vehicle represents a quantum leap compared to previous North Korean launchers, thereby increasing the chances of success for future space missions.
VIDEO: North Korean state media released footage of the country's successful launch of a spy satellite, two days after the launch took place on Tuesday night. pic.twitter.com/GhhmyKo7YN— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) November 23, 2023
The North Korean space program began in the 1980s, during the global explosion of interest in space. The government agency responsible for the country’s space program was the Korean Committee for Space Technology (KCST), which managed the launch of satellites such as the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 and tested rockets like the Unha-3 until 2013. Subsequently, the KCST was replaced by the National Aerospace Development Administration.
The KCST was responsible for all operations related to space exploration and satellite construction. It operated the rocket launch sites of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground, the Baekdusan-1 and Unha (Baekdusan-2) launchers, and the Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellites. However, both South Korea and the United States have accused North Korea of using these facilities and rockets as a cover for a military ballistic missile testing program.
Implications of the launch
Despite the challenges, North Korea has continued to pursue ambitious future space projects, including crewed space flights and the development of a partially reusable launch vehicle. These efforts demonstrate the country’s commitment to advancing in the field of space exploration.
However, the launch is destined to provoke strong reactions from the international community and could lead to a further tightening of sanctions against North Korea. Despite this, the country appears determined to continue to develop its space program.