- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korean space officials said Tuesday that all assembly and preparations for this week’s planned satellite launch have been completed and denied it is a cover for a missile test.

Space officials told reporters at a news conference in Pyongyang that the launch of the three-stage rocket is on target to take place between Thursday and Monday as part of centennial birthday commemorations for late President Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder.

The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, equipped with a camera designed to capture images of North Korea’s terrain and send back data about weather conditions, was being mounted on the rocket Tuesday, said Ryu Kum-chol, deputy director of the Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology.

“All the assembly and preparations of the satellite launch are done,” including fueling of the rocket, he said.

The United States, Britain, Japan and others have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, saying it would be considered a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

Mr. Ryu acknowledged similarities between the rockets used for launching a satellite and a ballistic missile. However, he noted that solid fuel is used to launch ballistic missiles, while the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will be sent aloft using liquid fuel.

Also, in order to be a success, a ballistic missile would require a large payload, he said.

“Our satellite weighs 100 kilograms. For a weapon, a 100-kilogram payload wouldn’t be very effective,” he said, dismissing assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as “nonsense.”

Mr. Ryu also said a missile launch would require more sophisticated technology and would not take place from a fixed, openly visible station.

“No country in the world would want to launch a ballistic missile from such an open site,” he said.

Mr. Ryu said he could not provide any answers to questions about whether North Korea is planning a third nuclear test.

None of Mr. Ryu’s points rule out the use of the launch, with or without a satellite on top, as a test for developing missiles. The United States and its allies suggest that even though the North may launch a satellite this time, the rocket technologies involved can easily be applied to missiles.

Effective long-range ballistic missiles do tend to use solid fuel, particularly when launched from mobile units, but that does not rule out using a liquid-fuel launch vehicle for a ballistic missile. The first ballistic missiles, Nazi Germany’s V-2, were liquid fuel, and several countries, including Iran, still use liquids.

This week’s satellite launch from a new facility in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri on North Korea’s west coast would be the country’s third attempt since 1998. Two previous rockets, also named Unha, were mounted with experimental communications satellites and sent from the east coast.

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