SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un examined a finished military spy satellite, which his country is expected to launch soon, during a visit to his country’s aerospace agency where he described space-based reconnaissance as crucial for countering the U.S. and South Korea.
Kim during Tuesday’s visit approved an unspecified “future action plan” in preparations for launching the satellite, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday. North Korea hasn’t disclosed a target date for the launch, which some analysts say may be in the next few weeks.
That launch would use long-range missile technology banned by past U.N. Security Council resolutions, although previous missile and rockets tests have demonstrated North Korea‘s ability to deliver a satellite into space.
There are more questions, however, about the satellite’s capability. Some South Korean analysts say the satellite shown in North Korean state media photos appears too small and crudely designed to support high-resolution imagery. Photos that North Korean media released from past missile launches were low-resolution.
Photos released by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper of Tuesday’s visit showed Kim and his daughter – dressed in white lab coats – talking with scientists near an object that looked like the main component of a satellite. The newspaper did not identify the object, which was surrounded by a perimeter of red tape.
The visit was Kim’s first public appearance in about a month, following a previous visit to the aerospace center on April 18 as state media announced that the satellite had been built.
Kim said acquiring a spy satellite would be crucial for his efforts to bolster the country’s defense as “U.S. imperialists and (South) Korean puppet villains escalate their confrontational moves” against the North, KCNA said.
He was apparently referring to the expansion of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea and the allies’ discussions on strengthening their nuclear deterrence strategies to cope with threats from North Korea, which has test-fired around 100 missiles since the start of 2022.
The next step in North Korea’s launch preparations, or the “future action plan” state media mentioned, could be installing the satellite on what would likely be a three-stage space rocket, said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
Depending on how North Korean preparations go, the launch could be conducted as early as mid-June, although Pyongyang might also time the event to major state anniversaries that fall in July, September or October, the professor said.
Spy satellites are among a slew of advanced weapons systems Kim Jong-un has vowed to develop. Others on his wish list includes solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submariners, hypersonic missiles and multiwarhead missiles.
North Korea has tested some of those weapons in recent months, including its first flight-test of a solid-fuel ICBM last month, but experts say the North may need more time and technological breakthroughs to make those systems functional.
In response to North Korean plans to launch a military spy satellite, Japan’s military last month ordered troops to activate missile interceptors and get ready to shoot down fragments from the satellite that may fall on the Japanese territory.
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