North Korea has carried out a successful ground test for a new high-power rocket engine, state media said on Tuesday (Sep 19), in a development that could advance Pyongyang's weapons programme.
After supervising the test at the country's Sohae satellite-launching site, leader Kim Jong-un called for more rocket launches to turn the country into a "possessor of geostationary satellites in a couple of years to come," KCNA news agency reported.
The North has already carried out a series of long-range missile tests presented as satellite launches.
The engine would give the country "sufficient carrier capability for launching various kinds of satellites, including Earth observation satellite at a world level", the news agency said.
The test was conducted amid global condemnation of the North's fifth nuclear test this month and a call by the United States, Japan and South Korea this week for greater pressure on Pyongyang over its disregard for United Nations resolutions banning missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate this year under Kim's direction, including the launch of a satellite in February that was widely seen as a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.
"Kim Jong Un ... visited the Sohae Space Center to guide the ground jet test of a new type high-power engine of a carrier rocket for the geo-stationary satellite," KCNA said.
The Sohae center is the North's newly upgraded rocket station where the February launch of a satellite and other rocket tests have been conducted.
"This test is another important development pointing to the first launch of a bigger, better space vehicle to place satellites in higher orbits, which could happen in the not too distant future,” said Joel Wit, founder of the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea.
A satellite image from Sep 17 provided to Reuters by Washington-based 38 North showed preparations for an engine test, including a heavy crane over the vertical engine test stand and a shelter that would house the rocket engine.
North Korea earlier this month fired three missiles that flew about 1,000km each and in August tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that international experts said showed considerable progress.
It also launched an intermediate-range missile in June that experts said marked a technological advance for the isolated state after several test failures.