North Korea has conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine that leader Kim Jong-un is calling a revolutionary breakthrough for the country’s space program, the North’s state media said yesterday.
Kim attended Saturday’s test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, according to the Korean Central News Agency, which said the test was intended to confirm the “new type” of engine’s thrust power and gauge the reliability of its control system and structural safety.
He called the test “a great event of historic significance” for the nation’s indigenous rocket industry, the report said.
He also said the “whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries” and claimed the test marks what will be known as the “March 18 revolution” in the development of the nation’s rocket industry.
The report indicated that the engine is to be used for North Korea’s space and satellite launching program, indicating the test was of a new type of rocket engine for long-range missiles.
North Korea is banned by the UN from conducting long-range missile tests, but it claims its satellite program is for peaceful use, a claim many in the US and elsewhere believe is questionable.
North Korean officials have said that under a five-year plan, they intend to launch more Earth observation satellites and what would be the country’s first geostationary communications satellite — which would be a major technological advance.
Getting that kind of satellite into place would likely require a more powerful engine than the North’s previous ones.
The North also claims it is trying to build a viable space program that would include a moon launch within the next 10 years.
The test was conducted as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China on a swing through Asia that has been closely focused on concerns over how to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
It is hard to know whether this test was deliberately timed to coincide with Tillerson’s visit, but Pyongyang has been highly critical of ongoing US-South Korea.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches, in defiance of UN sanctions.
Additional reporting by Reuters