The rocket for Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch later this month has been installed on the launch pad, Xinhua correspondents saw at the launch site Sunday.
A official said at the scene that the Unha-3 rocket, which is slated to blast off during the April 12-16 window and send an “earth observation” satellite into space, is yet to be fuelled.
Xinhua was among the foreign media invited to visit the launching station, control and command center and some other places.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced last month its plan to launch the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite to mark the 100th birthday of late leader Kim Il Sung, which has triggered global concerns.
The injection of liquid fuel will start after the second- and third-stage units are assembled, the sources said.
Despite strong opposition by Japan, the United States, South Korea and other countries to the plan, the latest development shows North Korea has entered the final stage of preparations for the launch.
The setting up of the first-stage booster was confirmed by analysis of data from a U.S. reconnaissance satellite.
According to the sources, the first-stage booster was assembled vertically on the launchpad, which is about 50 meters high, at the new missile base in Tongchang-ri completed last year.
U.S. and South Korean authorities believe the second- and third-stage units will be set up by early this week, followed by the injection of liquid fuel from an underground facility.
The liquid fuel used by North Korea is said to be highly corrosive, making it difficult to store in a fuel tank for a long time after its injection, according to military experts. For this reason, the fuel will be injected a few days before the launch.
“No delays have been seen thus far, from the transportation of the missile body to the base to its assembly. We believe the launch will be carried out as announced,” a source said.
North Korea announced it will launch the rocket in the period from April 12 to 16.
Starting Wednesday, North Korea is scheduled to hold a series of political events, including a representatives’ meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea. During this meeting, the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, is expected to assume the hermetic country’s highest posts, such as the general secretary of the party.
Another diplomatic source said North Korea will “fire the missile by April 15, [to celebrate the] 100th [anniversary of the] birthday of late President Kim Il Sung…and the completion of the power succession.”
Meanwhile, the launch of the U’nha-3 and Kwangmyo’ngso’ng-3 satellite may not be the only test carried out by the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) Central Committee’s Machine-Building Industry Department and its subordinate organizations, the Second Economy Commission and Second Natural Sciences Academy. South Korean officials say that ongoing excavation and construction activities near P’unggye-ri, Kilchu County, North Hamgyo’ng Province suggest the DPRK may conduct a third underground nuclear detonation, likely HEU. Yonhap reports:
Satellite images show the communist nation digging a new tunnel underground in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the country’s northeast, where it conducted two previous nuclear tests, first in 2006 and then in 2009.
The construction is believed to be in its final stage, the official said.
“North Korea is making clandestine preparations for a third nuclear test at Punggye-ri in North Hamkyong Province, where it conducted two nuclear tests in the past,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Commercial satellite imagery showed piles of earth and sand at the entrance of a tunnel in the Punggye-ri site. The soil is believed to have been brought to the site to plug the tunnel, one of final steps before carrying out a nuclear test blast.
A nuclear test following a long-range missile test fits the pattern of North Korean behavior.
In 2006, the provocative regime carried out its first-ever nuclear test, three months after the test-firing of its long-range Taepodong-2 rocket. The second nuclear test in 2009 came just one month after a long-range rocket launch.
The North says it will fire off its Unha-3 long-range rocket between April 12-16 to put what it claims is a satellite into orbit. But regional powers believe the launch is a pretext to disguise a ballistic missile test banned under a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Sources said the North is believed to have put the rocket on a launch pad in the country’s northwest on Friday.
The North’s nuclear and missile programs have long been a regional security concern. The country is believed to have advanced ballistic missile technology, though it is still not clear whether it has mastered the technology to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.