Sun, Apr 08, 2012 - Page 4 News List

First stage of North Korean rocket may be ready for launch

AFP, SEOUL

North Korea might have moved the first stage of a long-range rocket on to its launch pad, ahead of a possible launch this week, a specialist US Web site said.

The 38 North Web site said a photograph taken on Wednesday of the site at Tongchang-ri in the country’s northwest indicated that the first stage of the Unha-3 rocket, while not visible, could have been positioned in the gantry.

Pyongyang has said its rocket will put a satellite into orbit, but the US, South Korea and other nations see it as a pretext for a long-range missile test banned by the UN

The Web site said that commercial satellite photographs revealed that the gantry’s work platform was covered and closed around the mobile launch stand, indicating that work is being conducted inside.

While this makes it impossible to determine whether the Unha-3 rocket or any part of it is on the pad, evidence suggests that the first stage has been put in place as an expected launch nears, 38 North said.

Recent fueling 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 added.

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, the Web site said.

However, the satellite photographs obtained from Geoeye on Wednesday were not published. The satellite provider subsequently withdrew them from its public catalogue and asked that they not be published, it said.

North Korea is preparing mass celebrations to mark the centennial anniversary next Sunday of the birth of Kim Il-sung, founder of the ruling family which has ruled uninterrupted since 1948.

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