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A year later, the North claimed the satellite, dubbed Kwangmyongsong-1, or Bright Star-1, in North Korea, was still orbiting the Earth, “transmitting the melody of the immortal revolutionary ‘Song of [North Korean founder] General Kim Il-sung’ and ‘Song of General Kim Jong-il [his son and current leader].’ ”

The North said the satellite was a “brilliant achievement based on our country’s [self-reliant] economy and scientific research,” though the U.S. Space Command said it did not observe any object orbiting the Earth or any radio transmission that could justify Pyongyang’s claim.

After the rocket launch, Kim Jong-il cemented his status as the country’s new leader in October 1998, when he was formally inaugurated as head of state, succeeding his father, who died in 1994.

Tuesday’s statement from the national space committee called the rocket the “Unha-2 that will put communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 into orbit.”

“Preparations for launching the experimental communications satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2, by means of the delivery rocket Unha-2 are now making brisk headway,” it said.

The North also has employed the same explanation used by Iran to defend its missile programs, saying Pyongyang’s “policy of advancing to space for peaceful purposes is a justifiable aim that fits the global trend of the times.”

Iran recently launched its first homemade satellite into space, saying its space advancement serves no military purpose. However, experts warn that Tehran’s space work could lead to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. As is the case with North Korea, Iran’s military plays a key role in the space program.