It will take only 10 minutes to determine whether North Korea's rocket has succeeded in its mission to put a satellite into orbit, experts said Tuesday.
The rocket probably has a more advanced propulsion system than the one launched in 2009, "and at this point it is difficult to predict the trajectory," said one rocket expert. But he added success or failure will be determined in 10 minutes.
Considering the level of technology involved in the missile North Korea launched in 2009, the separation of the first stage of the new rocket is expected to take place just 110 seconds after launch. It will fall to earth some 3 to 3.5 minutes after launch as the second and third stages rise 100 km above Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea heading toward space.
Experts believe the second stage will separate 4 to 6 minutes after launch. The crucial factor is whether the third-stage booster can ascend at a speed of more than 7.9 km per second, which would raise the chances of placing the satellite into orbit. A speed slower than that would cause it to burn up as it reenters the atmosphere.
The North is expected to launch the rocket on Saturday, the day before a massive military parade to celebrate the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung, said a government source here. But depending on the weather it could be Thursday or Friday. The injection of liquid fuel, the final stage of launch preparations, takes place underground and cannot be verified.
Meanwhile, a former NASA satellite expert raised suspicions about the North Korean satellite. "The satellite did not meet the expectations I had," James Oberg said on NBC. "The problem is the North Koreans didn't just let us in [to the same room as the satellite], they let us get much too close. I could've walked three steps and poked it with my finger, but I didn't want to put grease and smudges on the outside because it could lead the device to overheat in space, or it could change a lot of things about the electro-static environment. So you need to protect the satellite from contamination -- from touching, from people breathing on it, sneezing on it. They didn't protect the satellite from any of that."
He added the satellite was different from conventional designs and its booster was too big.