North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday (March 24), its first test of a long-range weapon-delivery system since 2017, according to media reports.
The ICBM flew for about 71 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of around 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) and traveling 680 miles (1,100 km) from its launch site before splashing down in Japanese waters, Japanese authorities determined, according to Reuters.
Those numbers all top North Korea’s most recent ICBM launch, a 2017 test that sent a Hwasong-15 missile on a 54-minute flight that covered about 620 miles (1,000 km) and hit an altitude of 2,800 miles (4,500 km).
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It’s unclear what missile flew on Thursday. South Korean experts are investigating the possibility that the test involved an upgraded Hwasong-15, Reuters reported, citing South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. But it’s also possible that the flight featured North Korea’s more powerful Hwasong-17 vehicle. (Details of North Korea’s weapons systems are hard to come by, given how secretive the autocratic regime tends to be.)
The United Nations has imposed a variety of weapons-related sanctions on North Korea over the years, seeking to limit the damage that the nuclear-armed nation can deal out to its neighbors and the wider world. Thursday’s ICBM test was a clear violation of those sanctions, U.S. officials said. (The launch also breached a moratorium on ICBM and nuclear-weapons testing that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in 2018, as Reuters noted.)
“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday, referencing the capital of North Korea. “The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.”
Thursday’s ICBM launch continued a busy stretch of testing for North Korea. The nation has now conducted at least 11 missile tests in 2022, according to Reuters. The other flights involved shorter-range vehicles, at least two of which were apparently topped with a hypersonic glider.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.