North Korea says it has launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to a record height, suggesting they may soon be able to target most of the continental US.
The rocket was launched from just north of the capital Pyongyang in the early hours of today, November 29. According to the Pentagon, the rocket reached a height of 4,475 kilometers (2,780 miles) into space. That’s 10 times the height of the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits at a height of about 410 kilometers (255 miles).
Of course, this missile was not going into orbit like the ISS. It was a ballistic missile, meaning it flew up and then back down again. North Korea’s second-highest test, in July, traveled to a height of 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles).
Reports said it flew for about 53 minutes, before landing 950 kilometers (590 miles) east in the Sea of Japan. This suggests this was an ICBM with a range large enough to reach even Washington DC.
“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong-un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” according to a statement read by a television presenter, reported Reuters.
Had the missile flown on a standard trajectory, rather than going up into space, some reports say it could have traveled more than 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles). It’s unclear at the moment what the next step is for North Korea. But this launch raises the possibility that they could place a nuclear warhead on a missile and perform a nuclear test over the ocean.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a nuclear force within one year,” South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters in Seoul, South Korea.
Experts have yet to verify the latest launch, the 20th of the year for North Korea. On previous tests, the country's re-entry technology to come back through the atmosphere seemed to have failed. This latest step, though, is a crucial development.
“[North Korea] appears to have taken another minor step forward as it attempts to mature its ICBM technology,” noted the website 38 North.
“A viable ICBM capable of reaching the west coast of the US mainland is still a year away, though North Korea continues to progress.”