(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS byline)
By Lee Minji
SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Thursday released rare photos of its failed attempt to launch its first military spy satellite in an apparent bid to show that it was not a test of a weapons system.
The photos, released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), show Pyongyang's new "Chollima-1" rocket carrying the military reconnaissance satellite, "Malligyong-1," taking off from the country's rocket launching station on the west coast.
The North fired what it claims to be a "space launch vehicle" southward Wednesday, but it fell into the Yellow Sea after an "abnormal flight," according to South Korea's military.
The launching site in the photos appeared to be significantly different from the existing launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground. It may be a new seaside site located some 3 kilometers away from the main launch pad.
The photos also showed the upper part of the vehicle looks somewhat blunt and wider than the main body, an indication that the rocket carried a satellite instead of a warhead. The North's missile warhead is usually slimmer than the body.
At least two lines of rocket plume were discernible in the photos in a sign that the rocket was powered by several clustered engines.
Seoul's unification ministry said despite the failed launch attempt, the North may have released the photos to stress that Wednesday's launch was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, not testing a weapons system.
"Since the photos showed what appeared to be the form of a normal satellite, the North may have wanted to demonstrate that it conducted a satellite launch that it was OK to disclose," a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official added the North may also have quickly admitted the failure of the satellite launch, as it was something that cannot be hidden from the international community.
On Wednesday, the North swiftly confirmed the launch failure, within three hours following the attempt, saying the second-stage rocket lost thrust due to an engine problem.
The photos have so far been distributed only through the KCNA, the North's state media for the outside audience. The North has yet to make any confirmation on the failure in state media outlets for the local audience, such as the Rodong Sinmun, its main newspaper.
Earlier in the day, Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, vowed that Pyongyang will "correctly" place a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit soon.
South Korea condemned the North's latest move as a violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning its nuclear and missile programs, as the satellite launch shares the same technology used in ballistic missiles.
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