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Defiant North Korea Carries Out 'Space Launch'


South Koreans watch a television report on North Korea's rocket launch at Seoul railway station in Seoul, December 12, 2012.

South Koreans watch a television report on North Korea's rocket launch at Seoul railway station in Seoul, December 12, 2012.

North Korea has carried out what it characterizes as a “groundbreaking” peaceful launch to place a weather satellite into orbit, despite warnings from the United Nations and the United States. The event is being viewed by most of the world as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and the United Nations quickly condemned the Wednesday morning launch.

Leaders in Japan and South Korea convened emergency national security meetings.

Key dates in North Korea's nuclear and missile program:

  • August 1998: Test fires Taepodong-1, its first long-range rocket, over Japan as part of failed "satellite launch."
  • September 1999: Pledges to freeze long-range missile tests amid improving ties with U.S.
  • March, 2005: Ends moratorium on missile tests, blames "hostile" policy of U.S.
  • July 5, 2006: Test fires seven ballistic missiles, including long-range Taepodong-2, which fails less than a minute after launch.
  • July 15, 2006: U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 1695, demanding Pyongyang halt missile program.
  • October 9, 2006: Conducts first underground nuclear test
  • October 15, 2006: U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 1718 demanding halt to missile and nuclear tests, banning sale of weapons
  • April 5, 2009: Launches long-range rocket that lands in Pacific. Claims success, but U.S. says no satellite placed in orbit.
  • April 13, 2009: U.N. Security Council condemns launch, tightens sanctions. Pyongyang quits six-party nuclear talks.
  • May 2009: Conducts second underground nuclear test.
  • June 2009: Security Council passes Resolution 1874, imposing tougher sanctions.
  • February 2012: Announces moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile programs in exchange for U.S. food aid.
  • April 2012: Launches long-range rocket, which falls apart shortly after lift-off. Acknowledges failure.
South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, criticized Pyongyang for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch.

The foreign minister says this action will further isolate North Korea from the international community and the country should instead use the immense financial resources spent on nuclear and missile development “to solve the desperate lives of its people.”

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called the North Korean launch totally unacceptable and regrettable.

Noda says he urges the public to stay calm and assures the Japanese people there will be a stern response by his government, in cooperation with the international community.

Japanese officials say none of their anti-missile batteries, which had been deployed in anticipation of the launch, fired at the North Korean rocket and no debris fell on Japan.

A statement from the U.S. National Security Council says “given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase” its close coordination with its allies and partners.

Related - US Condemns N. Korean Rocket Launch

The North American Aerospace Defense Command says “initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.”

North Korea, in a special noon-time television broadcast, hailed the success of the launch from the Sohae Space Center.

The announcer, appearing in a pink hanbok traditional dress, says the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was placed into orbit after being shot into space on the Unha-3 rocket.

Trajectory paths of the UNHA-2 and UNHA-3 rockets near North Korea (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Trajectory paths of the UNHA-2 and UNHA-3 rockets near North Korea (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

North Korea's news agency later gave further details, saying the satellite, orbiting between 500 and 584 kilometers above the Earth, helps mark the 100th birth anniversary of the country's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea is prohibited under previous U.N. resolutions from carrying out such launches as the technology can be used for ballistic missiles.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, called the launch a clear violation of those resolutions and said he is concerned this provocation will have negative consequences for “peace and stability in the region.”

The United Nations Security Council convenes Wednesday to discuss the launch.

Related - China Appeals for Calm After N. Korean Rocket Launch

North Korea is believed to have several nuclear weapons and there is concern in the international community that its space technology will allow it to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear weapon.

Even if North Korea never gets that far, aerospace researcher Charles Vick, the senior technical analyst for Global Security.org, says the isolated and impoverished country is now in the exclusive league of nations that have successfully conducted their own space launches.

“The Unha 3 launch vehicle certainly introduces them into the club, and it also at the same time represents a major issue of technology transfer and what is it actually going to be utilized in the long-run? So far this mission was for a scientific technology kind of demonstration, now let's see what follows,” he said.

And North Korea has achieved something its rival and vastly more affluent neighbor has failed to accomplish. South Korea, with some Russian technology, tried to launch a satellite from its own soil in 2009 and 2010. But both attempts were failures. Another try was made in November but was aborted just minutes before the scheduled lift-off due to a malfunction.

The next South Korean launch attempt is not expected until next year.

Youmi Kim in the VOA Seoul bureau contributed to this report.

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