North Korea launches test flight for planned 2023 spy satellite

An image released by North Korean state news of a flight test of a satellite launch vehicle.
An image released by North Korean state news of a flight test of a satellite launch vehicle. (Image credit: KCNA)

North Korea plans to launch a spy satellite into orbit by April 2023, according to the nation's state media.

State media outlet Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced the plans on Monday (Dec. 19) following what it called an "important, final phase" test launch of a rocket in order to verify ground systems, sensors and telemetry. The nation's only English-language news outlet, The Pyongyang Times, reports (opens in new tab) that North Korea's space agency will now "finish the preparations for the first military reconnaissance satellite by April 2023." 

North Korea's space agency National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) lauded the test in state-run media. "The test confirmed the important technical indices including the technology of camera operation in space environment, data processing and transmission capability of communication devices and the tracking and controlling accuracy of the ground control system," a NADA spokesperson said, according to The Pyongyang Times (opens in new tab).

Related: Launch of North Korea's most powerful ballistic missile fails: reports

Along with the announcement, North Korea released images of the South Korean cities Incheon and Seoul it claims were taken during the test to evaluate the image processing capabilities of its planned satellite. 

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The announcement comes just a day after Japan and South Korea reported that two ballistic missiles were fired from North Korea on Sunday (Dec. 18), drawing condemnation (opens in new tab) from South Korea's National Security Council. 

It's not clear whether those missile launches were related to the satellite launch vehicle test reported by state media, although South Korea's military leadership reported that "North Korea's ballistic missiles were launched at steep angles and landed in the East Sea" after ascending to altitudes of 340 miles (550 kilometers), according to Retuers (opens in new tab)

The Pyongyang Times, meanwhile, reported (opens in new tab) the satellite launch vehicle test involved a "high-angle launch of a test-piece satellite up to the altitude of 500 km." Reports of both incidents seem to describe what are known as lofted trajectories, in which missiles are fired nearly vertically. This path allows test vehicles to travel large distances while still landing close to their launch sites.

North Korea's announcement of a planned April 2023 launch of a spy satellite comes on the heels of news that the United States Space Force has officially established a presence in South Korea, known as U.S. Space Forces Korea. The aim of the new command is to "defend the homelands and ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia," Gen. Paul LaCamera, United States Forces Korea commander, said in a statement (opens in new tab)

The new Space Force command will provide "near-real-time detection and warning of ballistic missile launches," according to the statement.

U.S. Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, U.S. Forces Korea commander, speaks during the U.S. Space Forces Korea activation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 14, 2022. (Image credit: USAF/Aaron Edwards)

On Nov. 2, North Korea fired a record barrage of 23 missiles, mostly into the ocean; a day later it conducted an unsuccessful test of its most powerful ballistic missile yet.

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Brett Tingley
Editor, Space.com

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children.