North Korea has reported the testing of space reconnaissance equipment on December 18, with a space launch carried out by the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) referred to by the state run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) that day referred to as an “important final-stage test” for the East Asian state’s surveillance satellite program. The test saw equipment, including a panoramic camera with “20m resolution,” two multispectral cameras and a video transmitter among others, all launched “to the altitude of 500km.” It was carried out from the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, and was described as “the final gateway” before the launch of a reconnaissance satellite.
North Korea’s satellite program has long been expected to be an area of key focus after the country’s successes developing viable miniaturised thermonuclear warheads, intercontinental range ballistic missiles and intermediate range ballistic missiles in 2017, which are achievements that have since been supplemented by expansion of the arsenal and development of new more capable missiles including those with hypersonic glide vehicles. Although North Korea may be able to benefit from targeting data from Chinese or Russian satellites, particularly should it come under attack due to China’s treaty obligations to protect its neighbour, an independent space surveillance capability could still be an important force multiplier for its growing missile arsenal. The latest test follows the revelation earlier in the year that a Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile test conducted on January 30 had cameras attached and relayed surveillance footage back to Korea, with photos released at the time in what was likely a step along the way towards the current landmark.