North Korea performed data transmission and other key tests needed to develop a spy satellite, state media said Sunday, in the second such tests in about a week, indicating the country intends to conduct a prohibited long-range rocket launch soon.
The moves come as North Korea has been carrying out a spate of ballistic missile launches – including one detected by its neighbors on Saturday – in what experts call an attempt to add new weapons systems to its arsenal and pressure the United States into making concessions amid stalled diplomacy.
On Sunday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said it conducted “another important test” the previous day under its plan to develop a reconnaissance satellite. It said authorities tested the satellite’s data transmission, reception and ground-based control systems.
The KCNA dispatch didn’t directly mention any missile or rocket launches to conduct such satellite-related tests, but it apparently referred to the North’s ninth round of missile launches this year, which Seoul, Washington and Tokyo spotted on Saturday.
Outside experts believe North Korea fired a ballistic missile carrying a camera to perform the tests described in the KCNA report. Last Monday, North Korea said it tested a camera designed to be placed on a reconnaissance satellite and released space-based photos of Earth, a day after its rivals said it conducted a ballistic missile launch.
A spy satellite is among a long wish list of new weapons systems that Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to introduce to cope with what he calls U.S. hostility. To operate a reconnaissance satellite, North Korea must launch a long-range rocket to put it into orbit. But the U.N. bans such a launch by North Korea because it considers that as a cover for testing its long-range missile technology.
It’s unclear if North Korea has developed a sufficiently capable camera to be installed on a spy satellite, as the satellite photos the country released last Monday didn’t include high-resolution imagery.