SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supervised a ground test of a new rocket engine to launch satellites, the North’s state media reported on Tuesday, the latest in a rapid succession of missile-related tests this year by the isolated state.
Kim asked that the scientists and engineers make “preparations for launching the satellite as soon as possible on the basis of the successful test,” the official KCNA news agency said, indicating the North may soon launch another long-range rocket.
The test was conducted amid global condemnation of the North’s fifth nuclear test this month and a call by the United States, Japan and South Korea this week for greater pressure on Pyongyang over its disregard for United Nations resolutions banning missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate this year under Kim’s direction, including the launch of a satellite in February that was widely seen as a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.
“Kim Jong Un … visited the Sohae Space Centre to guide the ground jet test of a new type high-power engine of a carrier rocket for the geo-stationary satellite,” KCNA said.
The Sohae centre is the North’s newly upgraded rocket station where the February launch of a satellite and other rocket tests have been conducted.
“This test is another important development pointing to the first launch of a bigger, better space vehicle to place satellites in higher orbits, which could happen in the not too distant future,” said Joel Wit, founder of the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.
A satellite image from Sept. 17 provided to Reuters by Washington-based 38 North showed preparations for an engine test, including a heavy crane over the vertical engine test stand and a shelter that would house the rocket engine.
North Korea earlier this month fired three missiles that flew about 1,000 km (600 miles) each and in August tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that international experts said showed considerable progress.
It also launched an intermediate-range missile in June that experts said marked a technological advance for the isolated state after several test failures.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and James Pearson; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Lincoln Feast)