North Korea has carried out a ground test of a new high-power rocket engine. The move could advance Pyongyang's weapons program.
North Korea's successful new tests are the latest in a line of rocket and nuclear testing, fuelling worries they could be designed to guide weapons. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), however, reported that the rockets were designed to guide the country's "earth observation satellites."
Rocket scientist Chae Yeon-Seok at Korea Aerospace Research Institute, South Korea's space agency, said that the new engine was likely helping the North in "coming close to having an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the US mainland".
"North Korea's space program is focused on developing launch vehicles that can easily be used for missiles rather than developing decent satellites", Chae said.
Satellite launch or ballistic missile program?
The isolated country has attract a great deal of criticism over a recent spate of rocket launches and nuclear tests
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Sohae Space Centre in the west of the secluded country to monitor the test. Kim expressed "great satisfaction" over the results, according to KCNA.
He reportedly also called for further rocket launches to turn the country into a "possessor of geostationary satellites in a couple of years to come", according to KCNA.
There has been speculation that North Korea might mark the October 10 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers Party of Korea by launching a satellite into orbit.
Increased military presence
On September 9, Pyongyang announced that it had carried out its fifth nuclear test, possibly its biggest to date. The act drew international condemnation amid concerns about the acceleration of North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
Pyongyang's state media also said that the country had realized its goal of being able to fit a miniaturized warhead on a rocket, although this has not been independently confirmed and has been questioned. Days before the latest nuclear test, the country had launched a ballistic missilefrom a submarine into the Sea of Japan amid widespread international condemnation.
In response to North Korea's increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the United States has been working with South Korea to install a missile defense system known as THAAD.
ss/jm (AFP, dpa)