North Korea To Try Again for Satellite Launch, U.S. Calls Action "Highly Provocative"

North Korea To Try Again for Satellite Launch, U.S. Calls Action "Highly Provocative"

North Korea announced today that it will try again to launch a satellite into orbit between December 10 and December 22.   Its most recent attempt, in April, ended in failure as did two prior efforts. 

The United States is again condemning the launch.  In language very similar to what it issued in April, the State Department said the launch would violate United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 and called it “a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region.”  It goes on to argue that North Korea should instead invest in its people and abide by its international obligations.

In April, the Unha-3 rocket broke apart 90 seconds after launch and fell into the Yellow Sea 165 kilometers west of Seoul, South Korea, dooming its Kwangmyongsong-3 remote sensing satellite.   North Korea said today that this new launch will orbit a replacement satellite with the same designation and the launch would put “the country’s technology for the use of space for peaceful purposes on a new, higher stage.”

Adding to U.S. and South Korean political dismay, the launch would occur on or near the election of South Korea’s new President on December 19.   South Korea also had to cancel a second attempt to launch its own KSLV-1 rocket on Thursday because of technical problems.  South Korea tried to launch satellites in 2009 and 2010, but both attempts failed.

The choice of date for the launch may be explained, however, by North Korea’s marking of the first anniversary of the death of its former leader, Kim Jong Il, who died on December 17, 2011.  His son, Kim Jong Un, replaced him. This year is also the centennial of the birth of Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea.  To commemorate his birth, the country adopted a slogan that 2012 would demonstrate that North Korea is on course to be a “strong, prosperous and great nation,” according to the Huffington Post.   It quotes a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, Koh Yu-hwan, as saying that “North Korea appears to be under pressure to redeem its April launch failure before the year of the ‘strong, prosperous and great nation’ ends.”

Whether North Korea’s scientists and engineers have had time to diagnose and correct whatever failed in April is an obvious question.  However, when two prior launch attempts failed, the North Korean media simply declared that they were successes.  Although it was well known outside of North Korea that they did not, communications are so limited inside that country that the populace may have believed they were successful.   The North Korean government could not do that in April because they had invited a contingent of western journalists to visit the launch facilities and view the launch.   Although they did not, in fact, see the launch, they were in North Korea and it would have been impossible to hide the rocket’s failure.  There is no indication that western media have been invited to this one.


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