SEOUL — North Korea could carry out a long-range missile test in the next three weeks, with new satellite images showing increased launch site activity, according to satellite operator DigitalGlobe Inc.
The global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery said Nov. 26 that the new pictures showed significant movement at North Korea’s Sohae (West Sea) Satellite Launch Station.
“Given the observed level of activity noted, of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks, should North Korea desire — it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks,” it said.
DigitalGlobe said the type of activity was consistent with preparations observed before North Korea’s failed launch of its Unha-3 missile in April.
Pyongyang insisted the April launch bid was aimed at putting a satellite in orbit, but the United States and United Nations denounced the mission as a disguised ballistic missile test.
The test put a halt to international efforts to engage the isolated nation, with the United States calling off plans to deliver badly needed food assistance.
The North is in the final stage of preparations for a launch after missile parts were transported to the launch site early this month, an unnamed senior military official told Yonhap news agency.
“(The South Korean military) is judging that there is high possibility of (the North’s) firing off the missile between December and January of next year,” the official was quoted as saying.
Any test in the next three weeks would cast a heavy cloud over South Korea’s presidential election on Dec. 19.
There have been widespread concerns in Seoul that the North would seek to influence the ballot by conducting a missile launch or provoking a border clash.
The Japanese Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported last week that the U.S. government had already warned Japan and South Korea that an imminent test was possible.
Last month, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said satellite images showed North Korea had conducted motor tests at the Sohae site to improve its long-range missiles.
Some analysts believe that a North Korean rocket, if successfully developed, could eventually reach the range to hit the United States.
North Korea is known to have an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) in development — the Taepodong-2 — but it has never been tested successfully.
Days after the failed April test, North Korea raised eyebrows by displaying what appeared to be a new set of ICBMs at a military parade to mark the 100th birthday of the North’s late founder Kim Il-Sung.
But Western military analysts and U.N. sanctions experts concluded that the display models were simply mock-ups.