North Korea may delay planned rocket launch, technical problems suspected

Kyodo

North Korea has suggested it may postpone its planned launch this month of a rocket carrying a satellite, the official Korean Central News Agency reported early Sunday.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency quoted a government official as saying that North Korea has halted all preparation activities at the launch site in the country’s northwest.

KCNA quoted a spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology as saying, “Our scientists and technicians . . . are now seriously examining the issue of readjusting the launching time of the satellite for some reasons.”

The unidentified spokesman also said, however, that North Korea is “at the final stage” of making preparations for the launch of the second version of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, which Pyongyang had earlier said would take place as early as Monday.

Japanese government sources said that as of Saturday, there had been no sign of fueling of the rocket installed on the launch pad at the Sohae Space Center in North Phyongan Province, reducing the likelihood of the launch taking place on Monday.

Yonhap had reported Friday, quoting a senior military source in Seoul, that North Korea was filling up a fuel tank at the launch site as part of preparations to inject fuel into the rocket.

The United States, Japan and other countries have urged North Korea to cancel the action, which they see as a covert test of its long-range missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Quoting a senior government source in Seoul, Yonhap reported earlier Sunday that North Korea was considering rescheduling the liftoff apparently due to technical problems.

“Abnormal signs” have been spotted since Saturday afternoon, the source said, without providing details.

Others said weather conditions may have been behind the rescheduling as heavy snow has blanketed the North’s northwest where the rocket is to be launched.

Some speculate North Korea may take into account objections from other countries including China, a major benefactor of Pyongyang, in deciding whether to proceed with the launch.

North Korea said Dec. 1 that it would launch an “Earth observation satellite” on the carrier rocket Unha-3 sometime between Dec. 10 and 22, “true to the behests of (former) leader Kim Jong Il.”

The launch period coincides with the first anniversary of the death of Kim on Dec. 17. His third son, Kim Jong Un, inherited power after his death.

South Korea’s Meteorological Administration has forecast that it will be neither snowy nor rainy at the North Korean launch site between Monday and Thursday, which would make a launch possible then.

If realized, it will be North Korea’s second attempt to launch a long-range rocket under the leadership of Kim Jong Un following the failed launch in April of an Unha-3 rocket that it claimed was carrying the “first application satellite” Kwangmyongsong-3.

Unha means galaxy in English, while Kwangmyongsong means “bright shining star.”

North Korea informed the International Maritime Organization on Dec. 1 that it plans to launch the satellite between 7 a.m. and noon in its specified launch period.

It said the first stage of the rocket is expected to fall in the Yellow Sea west of South Korea, the second stage in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines and a cover protecting the satellite in the area west of South Korea’s Jeju Island, according to the London-based IMO.

North Korea launched an Unha-3 rocket on April 13, two days before the centennial of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, but it broke into pieces shortly after liftoff.

Pyongyang went ahead with the launch despite repeated calls for restraint from Japan, the United States and South Korea, among other countries, which said the launch would be a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1874 that bans the country from conducting any launch using ballistic missile technology