North Korea’s latest attempt to launch a spy satellite has failed, its state media has said – with the country’s leader inspecting a tractor factory the day before.
The launch failure was due to an error in the booster’s third stage, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a statement.
In late May, a North Korean rocket carrying a spy satellite plunged into the sea soon after lift-off.
Despite the repeated failures, Pyongyang said it planned to try for a third time in October.
North Korea’s scientists appear to have fixed the unstable fuel or engine problem that caused the first launch to fail during its second stage.
This time, it was a faulty “emergency blasting system” in the third stage, KCNA said – with the launch taking place in the early hours of Thursday morning local time.
Professor Chang Young-keun of the Korea Aerospace University in South Korea, said: “The fact that they announced a third launch in October, which is quite immediate, could mean that there were no problems with the performance and separation of the first, second and third-stage rockets, and they have confirmed what’s wrong with the emergency explosion device through telemetry data reception.”
But experts say trying again in October suggests the hectic schedule of three launches in six months is driven by politics rather than scientific input.
The first launch on 31 May came just days after South Korea placed satellites into orbit for the first time with a home-produced rocket, and officials in Seoul suggested at the time that North Korea had rushed to keep up.
By comparison, South Korea has said it will take nearly a year between each of the three launches of its new Nuri rocket.
Yang Uk, a fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said the schedule suggests the project was about “highlighting Kim Jong Un’s achievements, rather than actually putting an operating satellite in orbit”.
The North Korean leader himself spent Wednesday inspecting a tractor factory in Nampo, the country’s second largest city.
Joined by his sister, Kim Yo Jong, an increasingly important figure in the regime, he urged the site to help solve the largely agricultural nation’s food crisis.
The North has suffered serious food shortages in recent decades, including famine in the 1990s.
Some analysts have said the factory may also manufacture parts for missile launch vehicles.