North Korea boasts about new spy satellite pictures - but analysts have some bad news

Grainy black-and-white pictures of the South Korean capital and the port city of Incheon were published in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper - KCNA/REUTERS
Grainy black-and-white pictures of the South Korean capital and the port city of Incheon were published in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper - KCNA/REUTERS

Images of Seoul that North Korea has boasted were captured by a new “military reconnaissance satellite” have been dismissed as “useless” by analysts.

Grainy black-and-white pictures of the South Korean capital and the port city of Incheon were published in Monday’s edition of the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, along with images of the rocket that launched the satellite into orbit over the weekend.

The North’s National Aerospace Development Administration reported that the launch had been designed to test cameras, control equipment and the transmission of images to a ground station.

A NADA official said the launch had been “an important success” that served as the “final gateway” to the placing of spy satellites in orbit in the future.

Images unlikely to be useful for military

But security analysts are not as impressed.

Soo Kim, a security analyst at the RAND Corporation in California, said the images were unlikely to be good enough to be useful to the army.

“From the images released, the resolution does not appear to be so impressive for military reconnaissance,” Ms Kim told the Associated Press.

Martyn Williams, founder of the North Korea Tech blog, went further.

“The image is 20m [65.6 feet] resolution taken at 500 km [310.7 miles], which is useless for military recon," he said.

Others described the images released by Pyongyang as “crude” and primarily designed to allow the North to boast about its new intelligence-gathering capability.

A rocket with the test satellite is launched at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in North Korea on Sunday - KCNA via KNS
A rocket with the test satellite is launched at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in North Korea on Sunday - KCNA via KNS

The new images come a little over 10 years after the North launched its first satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-3, describing it as “a proud fruition of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s policy of attaching importance to science and technology”.

The satellite achieved orbit and Pyongyang insisted it was operating as planned, although Western sources said it was “tumbling” and probably out of control.

Pyongyang seems to be determined to push ahead with the project, despite international sanctions and much of its population reportedly hungry, with the regime’s space agency announcing, “It would finish the preparations for the first military reconnaissance satellite by April 2023”.

The birthday of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean nation who died in 1994, falls on April 15 and it is likely that Kim Jong-un, his grandson, will time the launch of a satellite to coincide with that red letter day on the North Korean calendar.