North Korea is reportedly looking to continue to push forward with its space development programme, but is the hermit kingdom trying to use that as an excuse to continue pursuing its nuclear ambitions?

North Korea's aggressive interest in space development has reportedly sparked fears, with experts warning that that the country could likely disguise an upcoming missile test as a satellite launch. On Christmas day, Pyongyang reportedly defended its previous satellite launches, calling them a "legitimate" right.

Yonhap cited The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, as saying on 25 December that the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite in February 2016 was Pyongyang's first "earnest" step in the space race. The paper named other small nations in the world such as Algeria and Venezuela that too have joined the space race to justify its own space programme.

North Korea reportedly intends to continue to push for its "peaceful" space development programme to "help contribute to the dreams and ideals of mankind".

"Our satellite launch is a legitimate exercise of the right that thoroughly fits the UN Charter that enshrines the basic rights of respect for sovereignty and equality, and the international law that governs the peaceful use of space," the North Korean daily reportedly stated. "Our country is also in step with the trends of space development that is taking place broadly across the world."

North Korea has recently expressed increased interest in space development, even as its neighbouring nations such as China and Japan continue to send up multiple satellites, including surveillance satellites. It may also be likely that Pyongyang may be looking to emulate its ally China, which intends to launch around 10 more satellites in the coming years to boost its surveillance powers over the contested waters of the South China Sea.

"Though the North argues for its right for space development, it could be part of efforts to build its rationale for launching long-range rockets," Cho Sung-ryul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, said, according to Yonhap.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang also recently slammed the latest UN sanctions, declaring them an "act of war".

"We define this 'sanctions resolution' rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region and categorically reject the 'resolution'," North Korea's foreign ministry said in statement issued via the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea Guam strike threat
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps with military officers at the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency KCNA via Reuters