North Korean space officials are hard at work on a five-year plan to plant their flag on the Moon within the next 10 years.
A senior official at North Korea’s version of NASA also said international sanctions won’t stop the country from launching more satellites by 2020.
“Even though the US and its allies try to block our space development, our aerospace scientists will conquer space,” said Hyon Kwang Il, director of the scientific research department of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration.
An unmanned, no-frills North Korean Moon mission in the not-too-distant future isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.
Outside experts say it’s ambitious, but conceivable. While the US is the only country to have conducted manned-lunar missions, other nations have sent unmanned spacecraft there and have in that sense planted their flags.
“It would be a significant increase in technology, not one that is beyond them, but you have to debug each bit,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who maintains an exhaustive blog on international satellites and satellite launches.
Hyon said the current five-year plan, at the order of leader Kim Jong-un, focuses on launching more Earth observation satellites and what would be its first geo-stationary communications satellite - which, technologically, would be a major step forward. He said universities are also expanding programs to train rocket scientists.
“We are planning to develop the Earth observation satellites and to solve communications problems by developing geo-stationary satellites. All of this work will be the basis for the flight to the Moon,” Hyon said on 28 July, adding that he personally would like to see that happen “within 10 years’ time.”
North Korea has marked a number of successes in its space program - and, of course, in its development of ever-more-sophisticated long-range missiles for military use. On Wednesday, it test-fired what was believed to be a medium-range ballistic missile into the seas off Japan.
It launched its latest satellite into orbit on 7 February, just one month after conducting what it claims was its first H-bomb test.