Pyongyang recently began final screening of a project to develop military reconnaissance satellites and will soon carry out test launches, Daily NK has learned from multiple sources.
This comes as the country seeks to bolster its surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
However, the development is likely to spark controversy, with North Korea claiming it is peacefully developing space and the international community claiming Pyongyang is testing long-range missiles.
Satellite rockets and ICBMs differ only in their payloads, while their long-range launch technology is similar.
According to multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea on Thursday, the Central Committee’s Military Industries Department, Academy of Defence Science, General Staff Department and Ministry of Defense’s Weapons Screening Bureau began joint, comprehensive screening of simulation data of newly developed military reconnaissance satellites.
During the Eighth Party Congress in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presented the development of military reconnaissance satellites, unmanned attack drones and the modernization of the country’s reconnaissance and detection capabilities as military industry tasks for the new five-year plan.
Kim’s “military reconnaissance satellites” would use scientific equipment and signals to take images and intercept communications, their roles depending on individual orbits and transmission methods.
Having long attached great importance to the modernization of national defense and electronic warfare, Kim reportedly ordered that the country’s top technology experts focus on developing the satellites. He has apparently shown continuous interest in the project straight through to the final screening, too.
Daily NK’s sources said Kim directly told research and technology officials that he intended to liberally invest party funds into developing “North Korean-style” reconnaissance satellites that could constantly watch and respond to enemy military hubs and military movements.
However, the satellites currently undergoing screening are reportedly not products of research that began early this year. Work on them apparently began from 2018, with researchers focusing this year on minute technological improvements.
The sources said the party is stressing Kim’s reported belief that among the tasks of the present age, the highest mission of “warriors of defense science” is to “conquer space.” He said the latest satellites are the result of three years of research, with the authorities believing they can no longer fire into space mere “rocks” or “scrap metal heaps” unable to communicate with the ground.
This is to say, the party has called for substantive efforts to develop space satellites, with research and development of the latest military reconnaissance satellites underway for several years. The satellites are now in the final stage before receiving approval for a test launch.
In particular, there are reportedly four kinds of small and subminiature satellites undergoing screening.
The sources said the joint screening committee is currently focusing on camera quality, device lifespan, launch altitude, transmission method for imported, cutting-edge radar and infrared tracking systems and the launch system’s solid-propellant engines.
No date has been set for the launch. The plan is for the party to approve a date for launch depending on the results of the final screening.