The rocket North Korea is expected to launch as soon as this weekend appears to have a bulb-shaped nose cone consistent with a satellite payload, rather than a missile warhead, US defense officials said on Tuesday.
A commercial satellite image of the Musudan-ri missile test site showed a Taepodong-2 rocket with a bulb-shaped payload cover, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The image was posted on Sunday on the Web site of the Institute for Science and International Security, or ISIS, a Washington-based group devoted to informing the public on security issues including nuclear weapons.
The bulb shape is similar to the current nose cone standard for military and commercial satellite launches, concluded officials including analysts at the US Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center in Dayton, Ohio.
The same design is used by the US, Russia, China and the European Space Agency, analysts said.
North Korea said it will launch a satellite into space sometime between Saturday and Wednesday and issued a notice to mariners about potentially hazardous conditions in the North Pacific beginning on Saturday.
One official said the bulb shape gives credence to North Korea’s contention that it intends to launch a satellite. The nose of a rocket with a warhead design would be more likely to be cone-shaped.
Meanwhile, North Korea accused the US of spying on the site of the impending launch and threatened yesterday to shoot down any US planes that intrude into its airspace.
Pyongyang’s state radio accused US RC-135 surveillance aircraft of spying on the launch site on its northeastern coast, said South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which monitors North Korea.