North Korea successfully launches its long-range rocket
North Korea fired off its long-range rocket from a launch pad in Tongchang-ri, in the northwest part of the country, the South’s military detected.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that “the launch of the second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 was successful through the carrier rocket Unha-3 at the Space Centre in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province” and “the satellite has been put into orbit.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said at a briefing this morning that the three-stage rocket Unha-3 blasted off at 9:51 a.m. from a launch pad in Tongchang-ri in Cholsan County. The South’s Aegis-equipped warship King Sejong deployed in the Yellow Sea detected the rocket first.
Kim said the first stage of the rocket separated at about 9:52 a.m., and passed over Byaengnyeong Island, the South’s northernmost island in the Yellow Sea at around 9:53 a.m.
The rocket dropped off the South Korean Air Force’s radar, after it passed over the west coast of Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island, Kim said.
The Japanese government said that debris from North Korea's long-range rocket fell into waters off the Philippines at 10:05 a.m.
The South Korean military is analyzing the exact spot where the first stage splashed down and whether the North indeed succeeded in the launch.
The Foreign Ministry of South Korea issued an official statement condemning the launch.
“This launch by North Korea is an apparent violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874 and 1718, which bans any launches using ballistic missile technology,” Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan read in a statement at the Blue House.
“The government vehemently lashes out at the provocation of North Korea, which ignored the repeated warnings and demands for withdrawing the launch plan from the international community.”
Until yesterday, Pyongyang had said they would prolong the launch period to Dec. 29, because of a “technical glitch” in the first stage of the rocket, raising speculation that the liftoff could be delayed.
Government sources also told reporters yesterday that the North seemed to dismantle the three-stage rocket in an apparent move to fix the deficiency.
When asked if the Southern military failed to detect any moves of the launch, Kim said they couldn’t detect exactly whether the launch was imminent or not.
A senior government source said the North is gets a step closer to obtaining inter-continental ballistic missile capability each time it launches a rocket.
“Whenever they conduct a launch, the possibility of success goes up,” he said. “Although the North won’t immediately fire a nuclear warhead to the United States, the repeated tests will improve its capability to transport the payload.”
The key question to assess the North’s inter-continental ballistic missile technology is whether the North secured the re-entry technology or not.
While the source said material engineering to protect the warhead is an incredibly important part of re-entry technology, he didn’t deny that the North is taking a step closer to having long-range missile technology.
“If the North Koreans succeed in putting a satellite into orbit, it means their long-range missile capability is 80 to 90 percent complete,” he said, while the remaining parts will be developing ways to protect the warhead during its reentry.
“To secure missile technology, you need satellite technology. Russia had Sputnik and that was the basis of its ICBM capabilities.”
By Kim Hee-jin, Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]