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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea’s Korea Space Association (KSA) is developing space exploration technologies and continues to work on manufacturing and testing satellites, state media reported on Friday.
“Today the members of the KSA are producing space sci-tech achievements with world competitive edge in the sector of manufacturing and testing satellites and applying satellite data,” the report published by both the state-run Naenara and Uriminzokkiri websites said.
The article also highlights last November’s “Symposium on Space Science and Technology” held in Pyongyang and attended by KSA members and students of top universities — an annual event which, if held, was not covered in state media in 2018.
North Korea has largely backed off of promoting its space science sector since entering into the current negotiations period in 2018 with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
But it has recently returned to subtle promotion indicating that space science research and development, possibly in preparation for the first such launch of a space vehicle since 2016, has not stopped and in fact has expanded.
The KSA, according to Friday’s article, continues to update education materials and “provides sci-tech services to space scientists and technicians, space enthusiasts and students throughout the country.”
It also “carries on the work of introducing into reality the space-related technologies developed by its members.”
Last November’s event under the title theme “Building of a space power and drive for breaking through the cutting edge” was said to have “made a contribution to stimulating the zeal and competitive spirit to explore space science and technology and promoting sci-tech exchange between KSA members,” Friday’s article said.
Providing some new details of that event, the article also said lectures were given with the titles of “Influences of space environment on satellites” and “Satellite camera,” potentially indicating the types of uses for satellites the country may be planning on launching.
Further clues as to the country’s plans with regards to future space launches were also presented at the end of 2017, though these have not resurfaced since.
Analysts have speculated for some time that North Korea may be planning a satellite launch in the near future, a move likely to draw condemnation from the U.S. and others who view such launches as opportunities for Pyongyang to test intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technologies.
ICBMs and satellite launch vehicles (SLVs) do not utilize identical technologies, however, and while some may point to Kim Jong Un’s 2018 self-declared moratorium on ICBM and nuclear tests, SLVs were not explicitly mentioned by Kim.
One potential sign of preparations for a launch came last December when North Korea conducted two tests at its Sohae Satellite Launching Ground two weeks in a row, though these were conducted by the Academy of Defence Science.
A top military official also said in state media that the tests — determined by South Korea to have been rocket engine tests — were done as part of the “development of another strategic weapon of the DPRK for definitely and reliably restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.,” implying potential links to ICBM and not SLV development.
Friday’s article on space technology development and last November’s event, however, in addition to other signs of continued activities from the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), make the area one to watch closely in the coming year amid the ongoing stalemate in negotiations with the U.S.
And as the new facilities at the General Satellite Control Center in Pyongyang near completion, state media may also use the opportunity to more publicly promote the sector once again.
Edited by Oliver Hotham