WASHINGTON – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a new aerospace entity to prepare to test-launch what the country calls a rocket carrying a satellite in October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling party, sources in a number of governments said Monday.
Kim directly instructed the National Aerospace Development Administration earlier this year to implement the project that the United States, Japan and South Korea suspect will effectively be a test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile the secretive country is allegedly developing, according two of the sources.
North Korea was widely regarded in December 2012 as having test-launched a long-range missile.
North Korea at that time launched an improved model of the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile and put an unidentified object into space orbit, calling the vehicle the Unha-3 rocket carrying a satellite.
The Defense Ministry in Tokyo has said it suspects the rocket’s range could top 10,000 km if it were to be used as a long-range missile.
North Korea launched the rocket from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, in the northwest of the country.
Satellite imagery has since shown North Korea expanding the facility, suggesting it is aiming to launch a larger missile and that could come on the Oct. 10 anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, one of the sources said.
The United States, Japan and South Korea, which typically work closely to deal with North Korean issues, are stepping up monitoring activities, with some officials suspecting Pyongyang has intentionally leaked the information as part of its political propaganda.
The Korean Central News Agency reported May 3 that Kim had inspected the newly built General Satellite Control and Command Centre of the National Aerospace Development Administration.
The country’s state-run outlet quoted Kim as saying that “satellites” will be launched into outer space “at the time and locations set by (the party).”
North Korea later announced it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submerged submarine, fueling speculation that Kim’s regime is trying to increase a variety of ballistic missiles.
Pyongyang is also believed to be developing the Hwasong-13 rocket, which people in the Western intelligence community suspect is a mobile ICBM called KN-08.