N.Korea Close to Completing Rocket Launch Pad

North Korea seems poised to launch another rocket after almost completing a launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, experts believe.

Specialist website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University on Thursday said, "Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea is nearing completion of modifications to the gantry at the launch pad of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station."

"A new eleventh level has been added -- one more than previously estimated -- allowing the facility to handle large rockets of up to 50 m in length and almost 70 percent longer than the Unha-3 space launch vehicle tested twice in 2012."

A government source here said, "It's hard to establish the details, but it's true that the North has modified the Tongchang-ri launch pad."

"Modification of the Sohae launch pad should be completed by March or April 2014 if work progresses at the current rate," the website added. "The pad will then be available for additional launches, probably of the Unha-3 rocket or a slightly longer variant, such as the Unha-9, which was first displayed as a model in 2012."

The prototype was unveiled during a performance of the Moranbong troupe for scientists and engineers in Pyongyang on Dec. 21, 2012 in recognition of their successful launch of the Unha-3 that year.

"In view of its size and fuel, the new rocket may be similar to the Ukrainian Cyclone-4 space launch vehicle, derived from old Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles," the report adds.

"Such a [space launch vehicle] will enable the North to launch a variety of communications, earth resource imaging and military reconnaissance satellites into low and geosynchronous orbits in the future," the report speculates.

If converted into a long-range missile, a rocket with a range of longer than 10,000 km would be capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and carry a warhead of more than 500 kg, experts speculate.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 10, 2014 09:56 KST

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