Kim Jong Un has overseen a ground test of a new rocket engine and ordered a satellite launch preparation, state media said Tuesday, an indication North Korea may soon conduct a prohibited long-range rocket launch, per the AP. The UN and others view the North's space launch project as a cover for missile tests, as rockets and ballistic missiles in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines, and other technology. North Korea is also openly developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the US mainland. Kim directed the ground test of a high-powered engine of a carrier rocket for a geostationary satellite at the Sohae Space Center in the country's northwest, per state media. Kim was quoted as ordering officials and scientists to prepare for a satellite launch ASAP, amid "the enemies' harsh sanctions and moves to stifle" the North.
A rep for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says South Korea believes the test was for a new engine for a long-range missile. South Korean media speculated the North could conduct a long-range rocket launch around Oct. 10, which is the 71st founding anniversary for the North's ruling Workers' Party. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, the most powerful to date, prompting South Korean and US officials to vow to apply more sanctions and pressure. The North was already slapped with the toughest UN sanctions in two decades following its fourth nuclear test in January. North Korea has said it needs nuclear weapons and missiles to cope with US military threats.