North Korea has conducted successful tests of a new type of high-powered rocket engine to guide the country's satellites into space, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday, adding to fears of the country's nuclear capabilities.
Coming just 11 days after a controversial nuclear test, the most recent revelations heap on the concern about how far the country's rocket capabilities have progressed and what it plans to do with them.
Analysts routinely say the work on the satellite plan is camouflage for the country's true intent: advances in missiles that could be used to launch nuclear weapons.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Sohae Space Centre in the west of the country to monitor the test and expressed "great satisfaction" about the results, the report said. He also urged technicians to finish preparations for a satellite launch "as soon as possible."
Doing so would "bring the news of greater victory to the people who have steadfastly lived and struggled under the leadership of the party, unwaveringly trusting it," he was quoted as saying.
Although the new rocket engines are for "earth observation satellites," the tests are the latest in a recent series of rocket and nuclear tests in North Korea. Many analysts fear the technology could easily be repurposed for launching nuclear weapons.
"This test represents an anticipated and significant step in the continued development of larger, more advanced space launch vehicles," read a statement on the 38north website, a group of experts that keeps track of North Korea.
The South Korean military said the test was clearly an effort to check out whether North Korea's existing technology could be used for long-range rockets. Experts say there is, essentially, no difference between a rocket that could be used for launching satellites and one that could be used for firing intercontinental missiles.
On September 9, Pyongyang said it carried out its fifth nuclear test, possibly its biggest ever, an act that drew international condemnation amid concerns about an acceleration in its nuclear capabilities.
North Korea has also shot two satellites into space, the most recent in February.
Because North Korea has refused to participate in international agreements to control the spread of nuclear technology - and because it is not officially recognized as a nuclear power - its attempts to gain nuclear and rocket technology routinely prompt backlashes from the international community.
The United Nations Security Council in March bolstered a set of sanctions against North Korea because of an earlier rocket launch and nuclear test. Further sanctions were already being considered after the September 9 nuclear test.
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