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North Korea’s Powerful Rocket Engine for Satellite Launch Could Fly Missiles

Sep 26, 2016 04:53 AM EDT
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North Korea has tested a new rocket engine last week in preparation for a satellite launch, and the same technology could also help fly missiles, reports said.

According to North Korea's state-run media outfit NK News, the country's supreme leader Kim Jong Un supervised the ground test of a rocket engine on Tuesday, Sept. 20. The test, which was done at the Sohae Space Center in North Phyongan Province, was for a new type of high-power rocket engine for a geo-stationary satellite, which is a type of satellite located in circular orbits that are about 35,800 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the Earth's equator. Geo-stationary satellites are used for communications, surveillance and weather applications.

Kim Jong Un had requested officials, scientists and technicians to round off the preparations for launching the satellite as soon as possible on the basis of the successful test, the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a recently published report. In the same statement, Kim told them to develop satellites for various uses and turn the country into a "possessor of geostationary satellites in a couple of years to come."

However, observers outside the country believe that the space program could be a step in developing technologies for ballistic missiles, which could carry nuclear bombs. The South Korean military is speculating the possibility that North Korea is advancing its missile program with the ground test of this new high-thrust rocket engine that could be used for long-range missiles.

According to David Wright, a senior scientist at a science advocacy group called Union of Concerned Scientists, the new engine advances both the country's civil and military rocket efforts.

"This is the kind of thing you try and build to get more rocket capabilities, whether you are trying to build a ballistic missile or space-launch vehicle," Wright told Space.com.

According to KCNA, the rocket engine could produce 80 tons of thrust, which indicates that the rocket could be one of the most powerful ever existed. It would be 2.5 times as much thrust as the engine of North Korea's Nodong missile, which, according to Wright, was an upgraded version of Iraq's 1990s Gulf War missile.

North Korea is prohibited from launching space vehicles or ballistic missiles following multiple UN sanctions in response to its nuclear weapons program. The country's long-range rocket test in February drew concerns and criticisms from neighboring nations and world powers, adding new UN sanctions.

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