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Ukraine's space agency: North Korea engine identical to ours

By
Elizabeth Shim
Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a U.S. investigation into how North Korea procured Ukraine-made rocket engines. File Photo by Mykhailo Markiv/EPA
Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a U.S. investigation into how North Korea procured Ukraine-made rocket engines. File Photo by Mykhailo Markiv/EPA

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Ukraine's state space agency said the rocket engine used to launch North Korea's most recent intercontinental ballistic missile is the same as the type of engine used by Ukraine-made space vehicles.

But Ukraine denied supplying the engines to North Korea, raising the possibility Russia might have played a middleman role in delivering the powerful engines to Pyongyang, Radio Free Asia reported.

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The statement from the Ukrainian government agency came Tuesday, a day after The New York Times reported American investigators found evidence North Korea purchased the engines on the black market, and that they were "probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia's missile program."

According to Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea switched suppliers in recent years, and turned the fate of its missile program around with Ukrainian technology.

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"It's likely that these engines came from Ukraine -- probably illicitly," Elleman told The Times. "The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I'm very worried."

Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a U.S. investigation.

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The plant historically provided supplies to Russia's missile program, but fell into disarray after 2014, and Russia stopped placing orders, according to The Times.

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While acknowledging the rocket engine used to launch North Korea's most recent intercontinental ballistic missile is the same as the type of engine used by Ukraine-made space vehicles, Ukrainian space agency director Yurii Radchenko said the RD-250 engine technology transferred to North Korea was once used to power Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 space rockets supplied to Russia.

The Ukrainian official also said a total of 223 Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 rockets were supplied to Russia, suggesting there is a high probability Moscow could have been involved in connecting North Korea to the engines stored in Russian warehouses.

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