Defiant North Korea begins injecting fuel into rocket

Wed Apr 11, 2012 3:05pm EDT
 

By Maxim Duncan

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - Impoverished North Korea rejected international protests over its planned long-range rocket launch and said on Wednesday that it was injecting fuel "as we speak", meaning it could blast off as early as Thursday.

If all goes to plan, the launch, which North Korea's neighbors and the West say is a disguised ballistic missile test, will take a three-stage rocket over a sea separating the Korean peninsula from China before releasing a satellite into orbit when the third stage fires over waters near the Philippines.

Regional powers also worry it could be the prelude to another nuclear test, a pattern the hermit state set in 2009.

"We don't really care about the opinions from the outside. This is critical in order to develop our national economy," said Paek Chang-ho, head of the satellite control centre at the Korean Committee of Space Technology.

Once the refueling has been completed, the North Koreans will have to inject chemicals into the rocket which cause corrosion, which means the firing could come on Thursday, at the start of a five-day window announced already by Pyongyang.

Weather conditions on the peninsula also appear to favor a launch on Thursday or Saturday, according to meteorological reports from Japanese television.

"The likelihood of a launch (on Thursday) is the greatest," said Francis Yoon, a professor of engineering at South Korea's Yonsei University and an expert on rocket technology.

The launch of the Unha-3 rocket, which North Korea says will merely put a weather satellite into space, breaches U.N. sanctions imposed to prevent Pyongyang from developing a missile that could carry a nuclear warhead.   Continued...

 
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip