Will North Korea Launch a Long-Range Missile?

N. Korea: "Full-scale preparations under way" to launch satellite.

ByABC News
February 24, 2009, 7:30 AM

SEOUL, North Korea, Feb. 24, 2009 — -- In another move that is heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula, North Korea announced Tuesday that "full-scale preparations are under way" to launch a satellite from a facility at Hwadae, on the northeast coast.

But the international community considers the impending launch as instead another test of the Taepodong-2, a long-range missile, and has warned that it would violate a United Nations Security Council resolution.

North Korea's announcement delivered through its official Korean Central News Agency did not say when the launch would take place but claimed that "If this satellite is successfully launched, the space science technology of our country will take another major step for the nation to become an economic powerhouse."

Pyongyang's latest statement implies that they are setting up radars and assessment equipment, but satellite imagery shows the suspected long-range missile is yet to be mounted on the launch pad. "Once it has been mounted, it will take about a week to fuel the rocket," said Baek Seung-joo, director at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. "It is only a matter of time but politically the most likely period would be around their parliamentary elections on March 8 or around their Supreme People's Assembly on April 8."

If successful, it will have capacity to carry a nuclear warhead to as far as Hawaii and Alaska, posing a direct threat to the United States territory for the first time. The communist state test-launched a Taepodong 2 in July 2006, but the rocket exploded 40 seconds after launch, creating an international embarrassment for North Korea.

Experts have warned that North Korea may be testing an advanced version of Taepodong 2 this time, which is capable of striking the West Coast of the United States. "Because they failed last time, the North is all the more desperate to fire this successfully into orbit and claim that it was after all a satellite," said Paik Hak-soon, senior fellow at Sejong Institute in Seoul.