Skip to main content

North Korea moves closer to rocket launch, group says

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
November 30, 2012 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. military hasn't concluded that long-range rocket launch is imminent, official says
  • Satellite images show trailers carrying the first two stages of a rocket
  • A launch could take place early next month, a U.S. academic website says
  • But it notes that North Korea hasn't announced plans, which it did for previous launches

Hong Kong (CNN) -- North Korea is another step closer to the unusual and provocative move of launching a long-range rocket in wintertime, according to an analysis of satellite images by a U.S. academic website.

Using commercial satellite imagery, the website 38 North says that trailers carrying the first two stages of one of the North's Unha rockets can be seen near the main missile assembly building at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station on the country's west coast.

The analysis published Thursday by 38 North, which is run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, follows the release of an image this week by the satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe that showed increased activity at the launch station.

The developments shown in the images suggest North Korea could carry out a rocket launch as soon as "the latter half of the first week of December, weather permitting," 38 North said.

Economic change for North Korea?
Look inside would-be assassin's tool kit

Such a move would be surprising and unprecedented, since the nuclear-armed North hasn't before tried to launch a long-range rocket in the winter or so soon after a previous attempt.

A rocket launched from the Sohae site in April broke apart shortly after takeoff; the North's decision to go ahead with that launch drew international condemnation.

Pyongyang said the rocket was supposed to put a satellite into orbit, but the launch was seen by many other countries as cover for a ballistic missile test.

The Pentagon and the intelligence community are scouring classified and commercial imagery of the site and have not firmly concluded that North Korea is planning to launch a long-range rocket, a senior U.S. military official said.

While not discounting the possibility of a launch, the U.S. military is leaving open the chance that other motives could be involved, the official said.

"They could be moving things around just to make a point," the official said. "But on the other hand, it's the North Koreans, so who knows?"

The analysis by 38 North noted that before previous launches, Pyongyang has announced "dates and hours for sea or air closure areas for the rocket's first and second stage impact areas," as well as filing documents for satellite frequency.

"Since that has not happened yet, the window would appear to be closing for an early launch," the website says.

It suggested the possible motivation for the activity at the Sohae site was the planned launch of a satellite-bearing rocket this week by its archrival and neighbor, South Korea. Seoul postponed that launch minutes before takeoff after the discovery of an electronic signal problem.

There was no apparent mention of a planned launch by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency on Friday.

Another big rocket launch by North Korea could further sour its relations with the United States and South Korea. The failed launch in April scuppered a deal for Washington to provide thousands of tons of food aid to the North's malnourished population.

It also drew condemnation from the U.N. Security Council, which repeated demands for Pyongyang not to carry out similar tests in the future. The botched launch followed attempts in 2006 and 2009.

The 38 North analysis was based on DigitalGlobe satellite images released on November 23 and 26. The analysis was carried out by Nick Hansen, who has specialized in image technology during a 43-year career in intelligence for the U.S. military and private sector.

CNN's Adam Levine and Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 0718 GMT (1518 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT