North Korea tests suspected ICBM rocket engine – US officials

North Korea tests suspected ICBM rocket engine – US officials
North Korea has reportedly carried out another test of a space rocket engine, which could be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could potentially be capable of reaching the US mainland, American officials have told media outlets.

The rocket test was allegedly conducted on Wednesday at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, where similar tests of the rocket technology took place on three occasions in March, one official familiar with the matter told Fox.

News of the test was also confirmed to Reuters by another US official, who said the test could be “for the smallest stage of ICBM rocket engine.”

For years now, North Korea has been developing nuclear technology and missiles that will be able to strike the US mainland, located around 9,000 km (5,500 miles) away. The US and its allies in the region have recently been anxious that Pyongyang is set to carry out its sixth nuclear test after conducting five since 2006.

A missile is considered intercontinental if it can travel at least 5,500 km (3,400 miles), but some are designed to strike targets 10,000 km (6,200 miles) away. The ICBM technology requires complex methods and means of engineering to successfully deliver the payload to a designated target without failures through the three stages of the flight.

The ‘boost’ phase needs a perfectly functioning first stage engine to produce enough thrust for the projectile to reach the ‘midcourse’ sub-orbital flight phase before the guided ‘reentry’ phase that would allow a warhead to strike its target. According to reports, the North has recently been focused on developing a third-stage engine and reentry vehicle heat-shields.

So far this year, the North has conducted a number of short and medium range missile tests, but experts believe Pyongyang does not yet have the technology to manufacture a functioning intercontinental ballistic missile that could be armed with a nuclear warhead.

Despite Western skepticism over of Pyongyang’s current ballistic capabilities, North Korean media boasted earlier this month about an upcoming ICBM launch.

“The series of recent strategic weapons tests show that we are not too far away from test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper North Korea's Workers Party said.

North Korea's missile and nuclear programs are being carried out in violation of UN resolutions. Washington and its allies have condemned the North Korean tests, urging China to intensify pressure on Kim Jong-un as Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole economic lifeline.

Beijing and Moscow – which share land borders with the North – have also expressed concerns about the situation on the Korean Peninsula, calling all parties to remain calm and level-headed.