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Space.com June 19, 2006

North Korea's Missile Launch Site Under Watchful Eyes

By Leonard David

North Korea’s Pyongyang’s Taepodong-2 missile launch is under the watchful eyes of both U.S. military and civilian satellites.

The looming liftoff of the missile flies in the face of stern warnings from both the United States and Japan. Meanwhile, numbers of reports suggest that fueling of the rocket has been completed, although bad weather in the launch area could delay the flight.

The Taepodong-2 missile is purportedly capable of reaching a target nearly 3,000 miles away, thus putting in range, for example, United States territory.

Mark Brender, Vice President, Communications & Marketing for GeoEye of Dulles, Virginia, told SPACE.com that their Orbview-3 and IKONOS commercial remote sensing satellites have repeatedly taken snapshots of North Korea’s Taepo Dong launch complex in the northeast part of the country.

GeoEye satellite imagery has documented the work leading up to the rocket’s takeoff.

Satellite launch attempt?

Globalsecurity.org based in Alexandria, Virginia—a watchdog and think tank group on security issues—has also kept an eye on North Korea’s missile work.

“If this launch does not occur within the next few weeks then it must be assumed that some political policy and or technical issue have scrubbed this attempt for some unknown period,” reported Charles Vick, a senior fellow of the group that specializes in Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles and space boosters analysis.

Vick has reported that the North Korean missile is likely topped with a communications satellite.

Preparations for the possible orbital test launch of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 have been monitored using a number of assets, Vick reported. Based on open press reports, he said, U.S. intelligence-gathering operations about the rocket preparations have included U-2 spy plane or space-based spysats, as well as Japanese imaging observation satellites.

Vick stated that the booster’s payload is assumed to be a communications satellite.

“The fact that the launch site is above ground exposed where a very great deal can be observed certainly holds that this is a satellite launch attempt not a strategic ballistic missile operation,” Vick reported on the Globalsecurity.org web site. “If the launch were to occur from a coffin launch site or a large silo facility then it would be an easily recognizable strategic systems test. A true full range ICBM flight test is not at this time expected out of North Korea,” he said.

Vick noted that there is very little difference between an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and a satellite launch vehicle test “since the delivery transport system is being commonly demonstrated.”


Copyright 2006, Imaginova Corp.