Technical issues with North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite have forced the North to extend the rocket launch window to December 29th, a week later than previously. According to KCNA, a “technical deficiency” with the first-stage control engine module of the rocket is the reason for the extension.
On Saturday, a spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology had told KCNA that “Our scientists and technicians…are now seriously examining the issue of readjusting the launching time of the satellite for some reasons.” The terse statement did not explain what those reasons were.
A government source in Seoul told Yonhap that the North is delaying the launch due to “technical problems” and went on to say that “abnormal signs” had been spotted since Saturday, but also did not elaborate. However, another government source told the Chosun Ilbo that “the possibility the North will go ahead with the launch before December 22 as announced is high,” although it is unclear how that judgment would be affected by the newly released information.
An analysis by Nick Hansen earlier in the weekend had showed work going slower than previously believed, and may have been delayed by snowfall in the area on December 3rd. The analysis also suggested that previous reports out of the South indicating the third and final stage of the rocket had been put in place were likely untrue.
With North Korea placing great emphasis on launching the satellite during the 2012 timeframe it is likely that engineers will be working under strong pressure to ensure launch is possible before the end of the newly announced window. Whether this pressure translates into a hasty launch push is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, a report quoted South Korean government sources as saying that that Iranian scientists were helping with the launch. These sources went on to say that the “missile connection between Iran and North Korea, which started in the 1980s, appears to be more extensive than expected.” Iran successfully launched its own satellites into orbit in both February 2009 and February of this year.
While the launch has received a great deal of attention elsewhere, North Korean outlets have been notably silent – in stark contrast to the multitude of articles printed around the rocket launch in April. In fact, this time around KCNA has only posted three articles total, one announcing the rocket and two announcing that there were issues, while Rodong Sinmun, the Workers’ Party newspaper, has not mentioned it at all. By comparison, the name of the rocket, Kwangmyongsong-3, was mentioned in 57 articles back in March and April of this year. The comparative lack of attention may indicate that Pyongyang has learned from the April failure and fears that the chance of failure for this one is also high.