By Jean H. Lee
The Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korean space officials said all assembly and preparations for this week’s planned satellite launch have been completed and denied it is a cover for a missile test.
Space officials told reporters at a news conference in Pyongyang that the launch of the three-stage rocket is on target to take place between April 12 to April 16 as part of centennial birthday commemorations for late President Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder.
The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, equipped with a camera designed to capture images of North Korea’s terrain and send back data about weather conditions, was being mounted on the rocket Tuesday, said Ryu Kum Chol, deputy director of the Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology. Kwangmyongsong means “bright, shining star.”
The United States, Britain, Japan and others have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, saying it would be considered a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity. Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Ryu acknowledged similarities between the rockets used for launching a satellite and a ballistic missile. However, he noted that solid fuel is used to launch ballistic missiles, while the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will be sent using liquid fuel. The United States and its allies suggest that even though the North may launch a satellite this time, the rocket technologies involved can easily be applied to missiles.
This week’s satellite launch from a new facility in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri on North Korea’s west coast would be the country’s third attempt since 1998. Brian Weeden, a technical adviser at Secure World Foundation and a former Air Force officer at the U.S. Space Command, said he doubted the launch would succeed in sending a satellite into orbit. He speculated that the end goal is to test and develop their ballistic missile program.
The planned launch is a highlight of two weeks of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s April 15th birthday and the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.
North Korea also is preparing to formally install his grandson Kim Jong Un as North Korea’s leader with two major political gatherings: a Workers’ Party conference on Wednesday and a Supreme People’s Assembly session Friday. (end)
Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.