The third stage of North Korea’s rocket apparently separated instead of falling together with the second stage about 2,100 km east of Japan into the Pacific as initially thought, sources said Thursday.
Data collected so far by Japan and the United States show the third stage appears to have gone down in waters more than 3,000 km away from the launch site, Musudan-ri, North Hamgyong Province, in North Korea’s northeast, the sources said.
The rocket, suspected of being a long-range ballistic missile, reached an altitude of about 500 km after launch Sunday, they said.
The government is still analyzing the rocket’s trajectory in detail, using data collected by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, they said.
The government initially believed the second and third stages fell together, but the United States has concluded the third stage separated.
Japan changed its stance and agreed in light of the superior intelligence-gathering and data-analysis capabilities of the U.S., on which it relies, the sources said.
The sources did not reveal where the third stage came down but said “it is not so far away” from the second stage.
Both Japan and the United States have not yet confirmed North Korea’s claim that the rocket successfully put a satellite into orbit.
The sources said the two sides are still analyzing the real purpose of the event.
Japan deployed the 7,200-ton Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis destroyer Kirishima in the Pacific to monitor the rocket.
The U.S. forces, which deployed two Aegis warships between the Kirishima and the Japanese archipelago, apparently monitored the course of the North Korean rocket from Hawaii, the sources said.
The Defense Ministry originally estimated that the second stage fell into the Pacific about 1,270 km east of Japan. The ministry said Sunday that the Kirishima concluded its rocket-tracking duty after confirming the rocket progressed to a point about 2,100 km east of Japan’s coast.
On Sunday, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said no object entered orbit.
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