North Korea said Monday it tested cameras to be installed on a spy satellite, with the announcement coming a day after after its neighbors detected a new ballistic missile launch.
While North Korean state media didn’t directly acknowledge any missile launch Sunday, it said the “important test” involved cameras for a reconnaissance satellite conducting vertical and oblique photography of a specific area of Earth. State media also released photos of the Korean Peninsula that appeared to be taken from space.
Technical details of the North Korean statement couldn’t be independently confirmed. But the statement suggests North Korea likely launched a rocket or a missile to take space-based photos.
A spy satellite is among an array of sophisticated weapons systems that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed last year to develop under military modernization plans to cope with what he called hostile U.S. policies toward his country.
Putting a satellite into orbit requires a long-range rocket launch, but the United Nations has banned North Korea from such launches, since both ballistic missiles and the rockets used for satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technologies.
The Korean Central News Agency said “the test is of great significance” in its satellite development because it confirmed “the characteristics and working accuracy of high-definition photographing system, data transmission system and attitude control devices,” by the National Aerospace Development Administration and the Academy of Defense Science
After repeated failures, North Korea successfully put its first satellite into orbit in 2012 and second one in 2016. North Korea said both were Earth observation satellites and that their launches were part of its peaceful space development program.
Outside experts questioned whether those satellites have been working normally but said the North’s past satellite launches have improved its missile programs. In 2017, North Korea performed three intercontinental ballistic missile tests and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test as part of its efforts to acquire a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the American homeland.
According to U.S, South Korean and Japanese accounts, North Korea launched a ballistic missile Sunday off its east coast. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the missile flew about 300 kilometers (190 miles) at a maximum altitude of about 600 kilometers (370 miles) before landing off North Korea’s eastern coast.
The missile launch was the eighth of its kind this year and the first since Jan. 30.
Some experts say North Korea may view the U.S. preoccupation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a chance to accelerate testing activity without receiving any serious response from Washington.
Kim imposed a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2018 at the start of now-stalled nuclear diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump. But North Korea recently hinted at lifting that moratorium, raising speculation that it might perform an ICBM or a satellite-carrying rocket launch soon.