Seoul: North Korea may have moved the first
stage of a long-range rocket on to its launch pad, ahead of
its possible lift-off next week, according to a US specialist
The 38 North website (38north.org) said an April 4 photo
of the launch site at Tongchang-ri in the country`s northwest
indicated the first stage of the Unha-3 rocket, while not
visible, may be placed in the gantry.
The impoverished communist state says its rocket will put
a peaceful satellite into orbit but the United States, South
Korea and other nations see it as a pretext for a long-range
missile test banned by the United Nations.
The website said that commercial satellite photographs
reveal the gantry`s work platform is now covered and closed
around the mobile launch stand, indicating work is being
While this makes it impossible to determine whether the
Unha-3 rocket or any part of it is erected on the pad,
evidence suggests that the first stage has been placed as an
expected launch nears, 38 North said.
Recent fuelling activity seems to have been completed,
with most of the empty fuel and oxidizer tanks apparently
having been removed from buildings that supply the first
stage, it said.
Security has also been tightened with a barricade or
security checkpoint set up for vehicles entering from the
west, the only road to the launch pad from other main
facilities at the range.
The launch pad itself has been cleared, with objects
previously seen near the gantry now removed, it said.
The website, however, did not publish the satellite photos
obtained from Geoeye on April 4. The satellite provider
subsequently withdrew those pictures from its public catalogue
and asked that they not be published, it said.
North Korea is preparing mass celebrations to mark the
100th anniversary on April 15 of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the
country`s first and "eternal" president and founder of the
dynasty which has ruled uninterrupted since 1948.
A successful satellite launch would burnish the image of
his grandson Kim Jong-Un as he seeks to establish his
credentials as a strong leader.