By Baik Sungwon
North Korea is counting down to a rocket launch that has been widely condemned by the international community. North Korean authorities on Wednesday invited foreign journalists to a satellite control center and showed the latest preparations.
Paek Chang-ho, head of the control center for the North Korean Committee of Space Technology, told the group of international reporters that fuel was being loaded onto the rocket, which is set for launch sometime between Thursday and Monday, depending on weather conditions.
Video monitors showed the rocket covered with green tarpaulin
Paek said a satellite – the Gwangmyungsung-3 – has been installed on the rocket and explained what will happen if it enters into orbit.
“After ‘Gwangmyungsung-3 successfully enters orbit, we will receive satellite imagery and relay the images to relevant departments including the Earth Environment Information Center. The images are crucial to the development of the economy,” he said.
Paek said Pyongyang opened the launch facility to the journalists in an effort to dispel concerns by the West and North Korea’s neighbors that it is testing a long-range ballistic missile. He asked for impartial judgement by foreign journalists and experts.
James Oberg, a space consultant for American broadcaster NBC, indicated that Pyongyang’s claims are plausible. “I believe that this is not a military shot,” he said while North Korean officials looked on. When asked about the subject later, Oberg told VOA that it was a complicated matter, without elaborating. “It’s not simple,” he said.
The United States and its allies say the rocket launch violates a U.N. Security Council ban on any North Korean ballistic missile testing. Japan and South Korea threatened to shoot down the rocket it it strays over their territory, an action Pyongyang has said would amount to a declaration of war.
Western military experts say the technology for launching a rocket carrying a satellite and for launching a military missile is much the same, so this launch essentially tests Pyongyang’s weapons systems.
Paek, however, said he will do everything to show the mission is peaceful, including sharing images sent by the satellite with other countries.
He joked with the reporters that they could fly with the rocket and see if there is a warhead or a satellite inside, and said he would have a rubber boat to catch them after its stages fall into the sea.