Some observers have referred to this month's scheduled launch as a test for a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States, but this weekend's statement from Pyongyang was explicit: The North Koreans say they are simply trying again to put a satellite into orbit.
The mission has been portrayed as a do-over for April's launch of the Unha rocket and Kwangmyongsong satellite. The launch will once again take place at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station, where our NBC News team and other foreign journalists were given a pre-launch tour. Once again, the rocket is due to fly almost due south, putting the satellite in a polar orbit, according to warnings posted for fliers and mariners in the projected impact zone.
This time, however, the North Koreans are hoping to avoid premature impact. In April, the first stage of the three-stage Unha rocket disintegrated near the end of its two-minute thrusting phase, with the debris plunging into shallow waters west of the South Korean coastline.
Good news, bad news From the North Koreans' perspective, the good news is that the first stage worked properly on at least two earlier launches, where upper stages then failed. So the design is probably fixable.
But clues as to the nature of the failure have been scanty. Any debris that was recovered is probably in South Korean (and perhaps U.S.) hands. The available telemetry about the rocket's operating parameters probably was not extensive. More >>