A North Korean satellite is orbiting the Earth normally, South Korean officials said Thursday, as the North's leader pledged more launches following the successful Unha-3 long-range rocket liftoff that drew a wave of international condemnation.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is circling the Earth at a speed of 7.6 kilometers (4.6 miles) per second, according to Yonhap News Agency, confirming Pyongyang’s earlier claims.
The successful launch makes impoverished North Korea, which relies on foreign aid to feed its people, one of few nations in the world with a satellite in orbit.
It is not yet known whether the satellite was functioning properly or what mission it is performing, though North Korean space officials say the satellite can be used to study crops and weather patterns.
North Korea said it successfully placed a satellite into orbit shortly after the launch of the Unha-3 rocket on Wednesday morning, but similar statements following past failed attempts had cast doubt on the claim.
Apparently boosted by the successful launch, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for the country’s space program to continue and urged future launches, Pyongyang’s state media said Friday.
The Korean Central News Agency said that Kim, who came to power following his father’s death a year ago, vowed "to launch satellites in the future ... to develop the country's science, technology and economy,” according to the Associated Press.
Kim said the launch had demonstrated at home and abroad the country's "unshakable stand to exercise the country's legitimate right to use space for peaceful purposes," according to Yonhap.
But the launch has drawn widespread international condemnation, including from the U.S., where the White House called it a “highly provocative act.”
U.S. State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland said that by declaring the country will continue with future launches, Kim is assuring the further isolation of his people.
“That … means he doesn’t care about the future of his people, because they’re just going to get poorer and hungrier and suffer more, if that’s the course that he wants to take,” Nuland said.
“He has a chance, as a new leader, to take his country back into the 21st century, to take it back into integration with the region and with the world, but he’s making the wrong choices right now,” Nuland said.
Pyongyang claims the satellite is for peaceful research, but critics say the launch amounted to a banned ballistic missile test that marked a major advance for the North's illicit nuclear weapons program.
North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear tests under the terms of U.N. sanctions imposed after a series of nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009.
The U.N. Security Council condemned Wednesday's action, saying that North Korea had violated resolutions banning “any launch using ballistic missile technology.”
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.