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Did North Korea lie about its big ICBM test launch?

People watch a TV at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea showing a file image of a North Korean missile launch on March 24, 2022.

People watch a TV at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea showing a file image of a North Korean missile launch on March 24, 2022.(Image credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The initial launch of North Korea’s powerful new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) this spring apparently didn’t go well in the end.

North Korea trumpeted that March 24 liftoff because the triumphant debut of the long-range Hwasong-17 ICBM, even releasing a much-mocked propaganda video (opens in new tab) that showcased the success,and also dictator Kim Jong-un’s supposed central role inside it.

However the missile that flew that day wasn’t the Hwasong-17, in accordance with arms-control expert Jeffrey Lewis and his team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. The researchers found this conclusion after comparing North Korea’s propaganda imagery with photos snapped by satellites operated by the California-based company Planet.

Related: North Korea’s rocket and missile program (photos)

The propaganda footage shows a truck-mounted ICBM,apparently the Hwasong-17,on a country road. A Planet photo shows exactly the same spot minus the truck or ICBM but with a large burn mark a telltale sign a missile or rocket had launched recently, Lewis said on an bout of the JUST CLICK HERE podcast (opens in new tab) that posted Tuesday (Aug. 9).

But that Planet photo was taken on March 16, eight days prior to the purported Hwasong-17 success. And company imagery of exactly the same site on March 24 shows no burn marks.

You can find other issues with North Korea’s version of events aswell. For instance, the March 24 launch supposedly occurred in the afternoon, however the position of sunlight in the propaganda footage indicates a morning launch, the researchers found. And the ICBM in the North Korean video doesn’t accelerate as fast because the powerful Hwasong-17 should, based on the team’s models.

These various lines of evidence claim that the brand new ICBM actually failed on its first flight, and that the propaganda video ropes in disparate footage to cover that up.

“The easiest answer is they launched the big one on March 16. They filmed it; King Jong-un was there,” Lewis told JUST CLICK HERE host Dina Temple-Raston.

“Nonetheless it blew up, so that they couldn’t announce it,” added Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute and director of its East Asia Nonproliferation Project. “So that they came back a couple of days later. They launched another missile they were confident works.”

That second missile possibly a Hwasong-15, which flew successfully in 2017 did actually work. Japanese authorities determined that it flew for 71 minutes, reached a maximum altitude of 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) and traveled 680 miles (1,100 km) from its launch site on March 24. We have no idea the location of this launch site, although Planet imagery implies that it wasn’t the united states road highlighted in the propaganda footage.

Two images — one released by North Korea, another taken on March 16 by @planet — leave little doubt that the video North Korea released of a “successful” launch of a fresh ICBM on March 24 was, actually, from the failed launch weekly earlier. https://t.co/CqmBMhPg11 pic.twitter.com/9obMDeJIyTAugust 9, 2022

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Such deception isn’t exactly shocking. Kim is really a secretive autocrat who runs a repressive regime, and he’s got lied to us before.

“The best thing that North Korea wants to lie about which they’ve stopped doing, so I’m just a little disappointed however they always used to regulate how big is Kim Jong-un’s ears,” Lewis said.

“Apparently the person thinks his ears are too large. Or, at the very least he did,” he added. “We’d just see image after image after image where that they had made his ears a bit smaller.”

Mike Wall may be the writer of “ON THE MARKET (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book concerning the seek out alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Mike Wall

Michael Wall is really a Senior Space Writer withSpace.com (opens in new tab)and joined the team in 2010.He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been recognized to dabble in the area art beat.His book concerning the seek out alien life, “ON THE MARKET,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before learning to be a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He’s got a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To discover what his latest project is, it is possible to follow Michael on Twitter.

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