SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has moved up the window of its planned long-range rocket launch to Feb. 7-14, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Saturday. The launch, which the North says is an effort to send a satellite into orbit, would be in defiance of repeated warnings by outside governments who suspect it is a banned test of ballistic missile technology.
North Korea did not inform international organizations of any other changes in its plan, and the rocket’s expected flight path remains the same, said Moon Sang Gyun, Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesman.
On Tuesday, the North informed the International Maritime Organization and the International Telecommunication Union that it would attempt a satellite launch between Feb. 8 and 25. No reason was given Saturday for the change of dates.
North Korea’s launch declaration came just weeks after it conducted its fourth nuclear test. Outside experts and officials say that each nuclear test and long-range missile launch brings the North closer to creating a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile capable of reaching targets as far as the U.S. West Coast.
Recent commercial satellite imagery analyzed by U.S. researchers showed tanker trucks at the launch pad at North Korea’s Sohae facility, which likely indicates the filling of fuel and oxidizer tanks in preparation for the launch. It is not yet clear if a rocket is on the launch pad yet, according to the North Korea-focused 38 North website.
While the timing of the launch will be mainly determined by conditions such as weather, South Korean analysts had speculated that the North might attempt to pull off the launch ahead of Feb. 16, the birthday of late dictator Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un.
An official from the Korea Meteorological Administration, South Korea’s weather agency, said that rain or snow was expected in the North Korean region where the launch pad is located on Monday, Thursday and next Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.
North Korea previously tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and claimed it successfully delivered a satellite into orbit in December 2012, the last time it launched a long-range rocket.
By KIM TONG-HYUNG