The South Korean defence ministry said an evaluation of the satellite by American and South Korean experts has revealed that the reconnaissance satellite was incapable of delivering its purported objectives.
“Through this operation, major parts of North Korea’s space launch vehicle and satellite were recovered, and after careful analysis by American and South Korean experts, it was determined that they had no military efficacy as reconnaissance satellites,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
North Korea’s sixth attempt to launch its only spy satellite into space ended in failure in May after its booster and payload plunged into the sea, state news agency KCNA said.
The new “Chollima-1” satellite launch rocket crashed because of instability in the engine and fuel system, it said, vowing to make another attempt.
The South Korean military began the operation to find the debris from the Yellow Sea in a complex operation spanning 36 days and involving aircraft, the navy and deep-sea divers.
The operation faced challenges of poor underwater visibility, strong currents and difficulties in retrieving the wreckage due to its heavy weight.
“Our military has demonstrated its outstanding operational capabilities as it recovered multiple parts of the wreckage despite the unforgiving operational environment,” the JCS said.
The recovered parts of the satellite will be seen as highly significant across the world as it could provide a rare direct look at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s military capabilities.
Experts believe it can also give clues into possible violation of sanctions by the regime in procuring the material for the construction of the satellite.
It is the first time South Korea has secured a satellite launched by the North, experts from the South Korean military said.
According to the initial assessment, the reconnaissance capability of the rocket was poor in terms of tracing targets, apart from bad resolution of imagery captured by it, said Lee Choon-geun, an expert at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.
Yang Uk, a fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, also said “the resolution of the optical device loaded on the satellite was not suitable for military use”.
The satellite was intended to be used for keeping an eye on the military facilities in South Korea and Japan, and to track the involvement of the US military in the region.
In a rare admission of the botched launch, North Korea said it was the “gravest failure” and harshly criticised the offiicals responsible.
The National Aerospace Development Administration of North Korea said it will investigate the “serious defects” in the launch and take action to overcome them before conducting a second launch as soon as possible
Last month, South Korean authorities released pictures of a portion of the North Korean rocket. The piece, measuring 14.5m, was recovered from a depth of about 70m.