North Korea state media reported that Kim Jong Un visited the satellite launch site on Mar. 11. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

A satellite research institute under the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) has reportedly been expanded into a “Satellite Research Center.”

A Daily NK source in North Korea said last Thursday the institute was renamed on June 1 in accordance with a Central Committee order. Its staff of technical personnel was also expanded.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited NADA in March, during which he said “the Party’s Central Committee fully supports the decision of the National Aerospace Development Administration on diversely putting a lot of military reconnaissance satellites into sun-synchronous polar orbit in the period of the five-year plan so as to possess the strong capability for gathering intelligence by satellites.”

Afterwards, NADA apparently supplemented its research and technical personnel.

Daily NK’s source pointed out that it was NADA’s existing satellite research institute that was expanded, not the so-called “March 7 Command.”

The March 7 Command is a temporary research organization tasked with ensuring the successful launch of North Korea’s first surveillance satellite. However, the source said the recently upgraded Satellite Research Center will comprehensively and continuously carry out the national research task to — as North Korea claims — “peacefully develop space.”

That is to say, while the March 7 Command is a non-permanent, short-term organization akin to a task force, the Satellite Research Center is a permanent research body to realize Kim’s determination to develop satellites.

The source said that within NADA’s headquarters, they say the party “expanded and reorganized the research institute for the long haul to research and produce more practical satellites, an assemblage of cutting-edge technologies, to fulfill the party’s five-year plan for developing space.”

According to him, “Inside NADA, they are stressing that the expansion and reorganization of the research center, meaning that the center must repay the move by achieving more results in the state’s policy to peacefully develop space through the production of effective satellites.”

He said officials at the space agency noted that the party invested a lot of money in producing and launching the Kwangmyongsong 4 satellite in February of 2016, but the satellite performs hardly any practical function.

Following the decision to expand the satellite research institute, some technicians, researchers, scientists and working-level personnel were sent to the Satellite Research Center from research institutions under the Academy of National Defense Science.

The source said NADA’s center is “conducting R&D into satellites for scientific purposes,” while the Academy of National Defense Science is conducting “separate research into launch vehicles to strengthen national defense.”

Essentially, this suggests that North Korea is moving to separate the agency researching satellites for scientific and technical purposes from the institute researching ballistic missiles and other subjects related to weapons development.

The move appears to be a response to criticism from the international community that North Korea continues to develop ballistic missiles, development ostensibly focused on launching “satellites.” 

North Korea has worked hard to have NADA join the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) to develop rocket launch technology and justify its rocket launches. In fact, it was approved for membership in 2015, but the IAF later rescinded the approval based on an opinion by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea’s expert panel that the move ran counter to the IAF’s goal of peacefully developing space.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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