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North Korea’s Satellite Launch Ends in Fiery Explosion Due to New Fuel

North Korea’s latest satellite launch ended in failure as the rocket exploded in a fireball before plunging into the Yellow Sea. Despite the unsuccessful attempt, analysts believe the event demonstrates progress in the country’s space ambitions.

North Korea reported that the failure occurred during the rocket’s first stage, which utilized a new “liquid oxygen and petroleum engine.” Initial analysis indicated that the newly developed liquid-fuel rocket motor might have been the cause, but other potential issues are also being investigated, according to state media outlet KCNA.

While state media did not disclose the rocket’s name or release images, experts suggest it differed from the Chollima-1 rocket used in the successful November 2023 satellite launch. The Chollima-1, which also faced multiple test failures, relies on hypergolic fuels that ignite upon contact. In contrast, the new rocket’s use of a petroleum fuel and liquid oxygen engine hints at possible Russian assistance, as Russia has previously pledged support for North Korea’s satellite program.

Lee Choon-geun, a research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, noted that this development is significant, comparing it to South Korea’s early space rockets developed with Russian help.

Liquid oxygen requires storage at extremely low temperatures (-183°C or –297°F), posing technical challenges. Lee explained that North Korea conducted several static rocket tests last year to address these issues, which involve overcoming combustion instability and using materials that can endure cold temperatures.

Some analysts question North Korea’s decision to change engine types, but Lee suggested it might be an effort to distinguish its civilian space program from the ballistic missile activities prohibited by the United Nations Security Council. Reports indicate that Russian experts have visited North Korea to assist with the satellite and space rocket program, further indicating ongoing cooperation between the two countries.

Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, mentioned that if Russia aided in designing the new rocket or satellite, North Korea might continue relying on Russian components, deepening their partnership. He added that North Korea could attempt another launch soon if they accurately analyze the flight data from the brief two-minute test.

South Korea’s military, however, believes it might take some time for North Korea to prepare for another launch. South Korea released video footage showing the launch’s failure, with the footage capturing an explosion in the sky followed by flashes.

The failed launch prompted strong condemnation from the nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States, and Japan, who labeled it a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The launch also coincided with a rare three-way summit between China, South Korea, and Japan in Seoul, adding to regional tensions.

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