North Korea Rocket Launch: Country To Possibly Launch Next Week; Do They Really Have The Technology?

By Staff Reporter on November 30, 2012 10:03 AM EST

Sohae Launch Facility
Satellite image of Sohae Launch Facility, North Korea (Photo: DigitalGlobe)

Satellite photos over North Korea has revealed possible launch preparation activity as two sections of a long-range rocket has been positioned at the Sohae site. The latest missile developments captured in North Korea will undoubtedly further strain tensions in the region.

According to the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the rocket sections positioned at Sohae, a launch site located at the northwestern coast of North Korea, indicate that the country is readying the launch of a three-stage rocket by as early as next week, the first week in December.

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Based on an analysis from 38 North, the official website of the International Studies institute, images taken on Monday from a commercial satellite show two long trailers indicating the transportation of the first two stages of a rocket. The trailers are parked beside the main missile assembly building, where engineers will inspect the rocket before positioning it on the launch pad half a mile away.

What's more, empty tanks in four locations suggest fueling preparations, an instrumentation site monitoring the launch is under construction, and finally, a building for visiting VIPs has been upgraded with temporary structures.

North Korean officials confirmed yesterday that there are plans for a launch but have not elaborated on what the plans actually are. What's more, the recent activity also suggests that the launch will likely be scheduled suspiciously close to the date of the South Korean presidential election (December 19).

According to the White House director of Asia policy Victor Cha, North Korea has a habit of conducting major activities of global interest at the same time as major events occurring in South Korea or the United States. Previously, North Korea had conducted nuclear tests within months of President Barack Obama first stepping into office four years ago.

Another possible reason for North Korea's activity is the latest grant from the U.S. that allows South Korea to expand its ballistic-missile range. This week, South Korea was supposed to ready its own satellite launch as well. However, technical issues have caused the South Koreans to abandon the launch plans.

That said, is North Korea now capable of long-range missile technology?

The developing activity in North Korea is just hot off the heels from a failed satellite launch attempt during April, earlier this year.

According to David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, the launch may be too soon. As the April launch was a failure, it "calls into question whether the North could have analyzed and fixed whatever went wrong." North Korea has never successfully launched a rocket with a range exceeding 800 miles.

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