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Let’s unpack some questions about Russia’s role in North Korea’s rocket program

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Enlarge / In this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region in 2023. An RD-191 engine is visible in the background. (credit: Vladimir Smirnov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will reportedly visit North Korea later this month, and you can bet collaboration on missiles and space programs will be on the agenda.

The bilateral summit in Pyongyang will follow a mysterious North Korean rocket launch on May 27, which ended in a fireball over the Yellow Sea. The fact that this launch fell short of orbit is not unusual—two of the country’s three previous satellite launch attempts failed. But North Korea’s official state news agency dropped some big news in the last paragraph of its report on the May 27 launch.

The Korean Central News Agency called the launch vehicle a “new-type satellite carrier rocket” and attributed the likely cause of the failure to “the reliability of operation of the newly developed liquid oxygen + petroleum engine” on the first stage booster. A small North Korean military spy satellite was destroyed. The fiery demise of the North Korean rocket was captured in a video recorded by the Japanese news broadcaster NHK.

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