N. Korea says it may delay rocket launch

December 8, 2012

North Korea said Saturday that it might delay the launch time of a long-range rocket that had been scheduled to blast off as early as Monday. No reason was given, but recent commercial satellite images — published jointly by the North Korea blog, operated by technology journalist Martyn Williams, and the 38 North, a project of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies — indicated that preparations for the launch had been delayed by snowfall.

The North’s state-run news agency quoted a spokesman for the national space agency, who said that “scientists and technicians” were “seriously” considering the time change. No reason was given, but recent commercial satellite images — published jointly by the North Korea blog, operated by technology journalist Martyn Williams, and 38 North, a project of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies — indicated that preparations for the launch had been delayed by snowfall.

The North, in its brief statement Saturday, said that preparations for the launch were still “at the final stage.”

Initially, the North had planned to blast off between Dec. 10 and 22, a sensitive window during which both Japan and South Korea would elect new leaders. Many analysts had suggested that Pyongyang wanted to pay homage to late leader Kim Jong Il, who died last Dec. 17. If the North had been able to place a satellite into orbit — the stated goal of the launch, and something it’s failed to do in three previous tries — it would also mark a key achievement for new supreme leader Kim Jong Eun, who took over after his father’s death.

Washington and allies have pressed the North in recent days to call off the launch, which they say is a de facto intercontinental ballistic missile test. The rocket uses the same technology as a missile — though it doesn’t have a warhead attached. North Korea is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions from conducting any test using “ballistic missile technology.”


A file satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe and annotated by 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, shows the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea. (Uncredited/AP)

South Korea’s foreign minister said last week that the North, an impoverished family-run police state that depends on aid from China, sank $480 million into its satellite launch plans. This attempt follows a similar effort eight months ago that ended in failure, with the rocket breaking apart and falling into the sea just 90 seconds after lift-off.

At the time of the April launch, North Korea had announced a five-day window during which it might conduct the test. This time, North Korea initially announced a 12-day window — a likely sign, analysts say, that the country was aware that frigid weather and snow could cause problems with preparations.

The launch site is in North Korea’s northwest corner, close to the Chinese border.

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