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Evidence builds that North Korea's launch was a missile test

Some analysts see strong evidence that North Korea's controversial rocket launch this past weekend was a missile test and not a peaceful space launch as the secretive country claims. The launch has been condemned by the U.S. as a violation of United Nations sanctions intended to quash the development of nuclear or ballistic-missile programs in North Korea. The state media claims that the launch was a successful stab at putting a communications satellite in orbit, but U.S. and South Korean observers say the rocket's upper stages and payload fell into the Pacific Ocean well before anything reached orbit.

South Korean scientists told the Christian Science Monitor this week that it is unlikely North Korea could or would launch a real satellite, meaning that a missile test was the likely motive for the launch. (And a successful one at that, as the rocket doubled the range of its predecessor.) "They cannot have been shooting a real satellite," Noh-Hoon Myung, head of the Satellite Technology Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), told the newspaper. He added that he thinks "it was a dummy, not a real one," since there is no indication that North Korea has the capacity to build a satellite.

"The launch was successful," Duck-Joo Lee, a professor of aerospace engineering at KAIST, told the Monitor, "but the satellite was intentionally discarded." Lee also believes the payload was a dummy.

Geoffrey Forden, an analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Nature News that the launch's low trajectory, as captured by satellite imagery, doesn't jibe with a space launch, which would typically call for a more vertical angle. He nonetheless says that the evidence is too weak to definitively call the launch a test of ballistic missile technology. Indeed, another analyst told Nature News that the trajectory calculated by Forden "seems shallow for either a ballistic missile or a space-launch vehicle," and that the rocket's long flight seems to indicate a steeper angle of ascent.

Flag of North Korea by Zscout370 via Wikimedia Commons

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