South Korean intelligence reports suggest that North Korea is preparing a test launch that could either have space explorative or military intentions.
Official reports from North Korea’s Ministry of Science states that they are making “preparations to launch an experimental communications satellite.” Satellite images from the South indicate that there has been heavy preparation at the Musudan-ni Launch Facility, and that a launch tower has been erected.
South Korea and many neighboring nations do not believe this to be a test of the space vehicle Paektusan-2, but of a long-range ballistic missile called Taepodong-2. North Korea has previously cried “satellite” during its military defense testing, using the same pretense for tests of its Taepodong-1 missile.
The prototype of Taepodong-2 was first tested in 2006. The prototype missile malfunctioned, setting off destruction seconds after deployment and the atomic test was a failure. North Korea faced UN sanctions as a result of the test launch, as well as nuclear testing only three months later.
The CIA has indicated that the original design of this weapon was to enable it to reach US territory. One report stated that a functioning version of the missile could “reach major cities and military bases in Alaska.”
So far, North Korea has not unveiled a specific date for the test launch. South Korea also reports that there has been no visual confirmation of a missile at the launch site, and the Taepodong-2 has never been retrofitted to mount nuclear weapons. Additional intelligence will be needed to determine the nature of the upcoming launch.
(Associate Press reports were used to aid in the completion of this story)