The Earth's horizon and the moon seen from the International Space Station
The Earth's horizon and the moon seen from the International Space Station

North Korea to send a mission to the moon within the next 10 years, senior space officials say

The country’s space agency is still at a relatively early stage – but a moon mission can sometimes be a key way of kicking it off, experts say

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 04 August 2016 17:02
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North Korea is shooting for the moon, and plans to plant its flag there in the next ten years.

The country not only hopes to have more advanced satellites in orbit by 2020, but push all the way off from Earth and land on the moon.

The country says that it isn’t going to be dissuaded by international sanctions that are intended to stop it launching more satellites. And it is going to go from there out to the moon, senior officials at North Korea’s version of Nasa say.

"Even though the U.S. and its allies try to block our space development, our aerospace scientists will conquer space and definitely plant the flag of the DPRK on the moon," said Hyon Kwang Il, director of the scientific research department of North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration.

Experts say that actually getting up there will be difficult, but not impossible. Only the US has sent people to the moon – and it hasn’t done so for decades – but other nations have arrived there and planted flags by getting their machinery on the surface.

"It would be a significant increase in technology, not one that is beyond them, but you have to debug each bit," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who maintains an exhaustive blog on international satellites and satellite launches, said.

At the moment the country is looking to concentrate on its five-year plan to launch Earth observation satellites and then its first geostationary communications satellite, according to Hyon. But it will use that expertise to go onto the moon, he said.

"We are planning to develop the Earth observation satellites and to solve communications problems by developing geostationary satellites. All of this work will be the basis for the flight to the moon," Hyon said on July 28, adding that he personally would like to see that happen "within 10 years' time."

North Korea has been making way with its space programme, which also helps it develop long-range missiles for military use that worry international bodies. It has launched satellites into space – often alongside announcements about its ambitions for ballistic missiles and hydrogen bombs.

Those latter ambitions have brought with them new sets of sanctions that stop rocket launches because they can have military applications. But Hyon said the sanctions are “ridiculous”.

"Our country has started to accomplish our plan and we have started to gain a lot of successes," he told the Associated Press. "No matter what anyone thinks, our country will launch more satellites."

Nasa has found a mini Moon circling Earth

And once it has done so, it will not stop at the moon, Hyon said. The country plans "to do manned spaceflight and scientific experiments in space, make a flight to the moon and moon exploration and also exploration to other planets."

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