SEOUL • North Korea has successfully tested a new high-powered rocket engine, according to state media yesterday, a move designed to showcase its progress towards being able to target the US east coast.
After supervising the test at the country's Sohae satellite-launching site, leader Kim Jong Un called on officials, scientists and technicians "to round off the preparations for launching the satellite as soon as possible", the state-run KCNA news agency reported. He also called for more rocket launches to turn the country into a "possessor of geostationary satellites in a couple of years to come", according to KCNA.
Mr Kim "expressed great satisfaction" with the results of the engine test, saying the North had made cutting-edge scientific advances "despite the difficult economic conditions of the country", KCNA said.
There has been speculation that North Korea might celebrate the Oct 10 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party by launching a satellite.
The front page of the North's Rodong Sinmun yesterday showed a picture of a long flame bursting from an engine propped up by a cement structure. Another photo showed Mr Kim watching the test and a separate picture showed him laughing excitedly.
This new test heralds an upcoming landmark ICBM test. The next test, disguised as a satellite launch, is likely to come when the UN Security Council adopts new sanctions over its last nuclear test or around the time when the US presidential election takes place in November.
PROFESSOR YANG MOO JIN, of the University of North Korean Studies.
A geostationary satellite must be propelled to an altitude of 36,000km, a Unification Ministry official was quoted as saying by South Korea's official Yonhap news agency. "The distance to the eastern part of the United States is some 12,000km. The North is thus showing off its ability" to hit the US east coast, the official added.
South Korea's military Joint Chiefs of Staff said the test was to verify the performance of "a high- power engine that can be used for long-range missiles". Rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles.
Rocket scientist Chae Yeon Seok at the South's Korea Aerospace Research Institute said that with the new engine, the North is "coming close to having an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could hit the US mainland".
Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the North's five-year space programme ends this year. "This new test heralds an upcoming landmark ICBM test. The next test, disguised as a satellite launch, is likely to come when the UN Security Council adopts new sanctions over its last nuclear test or around the time when the US presidential election takes place in November," he said.