SEOUL, Nov 23 (Reuters) – A stage of North Korea’s satellite launch rocket exploded after separation on Tuesday, video captured by the South Korea Astronomical Observatory showed, in what some analysts said may have been deliberately destroyed to prevent recovery.
North Korea launched its first spy satellite into orbit on Tuesday, after two previous attempts this year ended in rocket crashes during flight.
The video was captured by a meteor-viewing camera at Yonsei University in South Korea. Analysts said it showed the Solima-1 rocket crossing the sky and a phase separation. The lower stage then descends for a few moments, exploding in a flash and debris cloud.
“This time it looks like they detonated the first stage propellant in mid-air,” Byun Yong-ik, a professor of astronomy at Yonsei University, told Reuters.
“Such action has not been seen in previous missile attempts and may have been an attempt to prevent South Korean and US officials from recovering the propellant as it was fitted with a new engine.”
Marco Langbroek, a satellite expert at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said the video showed the first and second stages, with the first stage exploding after the second stage separated.
“It’s definitely unusual,” he told Reuters, adding that most of the rocket stages were left to fall into the ocean.
Whether it was intentional or an accident is not certain, but North Korea said it used a self-destruct mechanism during its last launch in August as a safety measure after a rocket failed, Longbrook said.
“I think it’s certainly possible that this was done deliberately by the West to prevent recovery of an intact grid,” he said.
The South Korean military is trying to find and recover debris from the rocket, South Korea’s defense ministry told parliament on Thursday.
The ministry said it had no comment on the deliberately destroyed video or reports.
After the Cholima-1 missile sank in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and China in May, the South Korean and US navies recovered parts of the rocket, including its satellite payload, which they said were “unfit for military use”.
Experts have said that recovering parts of the rocket could provide valuable insight into its capabilities and components, and South Korea has accused Russia of providing North Korea with technical assistance for this latest launch.
Russia has denied military cooperation, but President Vladimir Putin publicly pledged in September to help North Korea build satellites.
Josh Smith and Hyunhee Shin report; Additional reporting by Joo-Min Park. Editing by Jerry Doyle and Bernadette Baum
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