Pyongyang notified Japan that it could carry out the launch as soon as this Wednesday. It drew immediate condemnation from the Japanese government, which said it would work with allies to “strongly urge” Kim Jong-un to cancel the attempt.
Two earlier attempts this year resulted in embarrassing and costly failures, with the satellites breaking up during early stages of the launch. North Korean officials described the incidents as the country’s “most serious” shortcoming.
Neighbouring South Korea also warned Pyongyang to not go ahead with its launch, suggesting it could suspend a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions and resume front-line aerial surveillance and live firing if the launch is carried out.
North Korea is prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions from carrying out any activity using ballistic missile technology, and this includes attempts to send a satellite with a rocket into space.
“Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology is a violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions,” prime minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
“It is also a matter that greatly affects national security.”
Japanese coastguard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said North Korean officials identified three maritime zones where debris from the rocket may fall, adding that the launch could take place any time between Wednesday 22 November and Thursday 30 November.
Two of the areas identified are in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and China and the third is in the Philippine Sea, he said.
The areas notified are the same as those identified for its earlier attempts to launch a spy satellite in May and August, suggesting this possible third attempt could have a similar flight path.
Mr Kishida said the country’s defence systems, including Aegis destroyers and PAC-3 air defence missiles, stand ready to deal with any possible “unexpected” developments, without elaborating further.
Some experts see the satellite launch attempts as a cover for North Korea to test its missile technology, while North Korea said it needs a space-based surveillance system to better monitor its rivals.
This new endeavour marks the first attempt at a satellite launch since Mr Kim made a rare and historic trip to Russia in September and toured Russia’s Vostochny cosmodrome with president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Putin had promised to help Pyongyang build satellites after they toured the modern space launch centre.
It also comes just before South Korea’s own planned launch of its first reconnaissance satellite on 30 November.
South Korea is conducting the launch with the help of a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket from the US military’s Vandenberg base.
North Korea’s first two attempts had failed due to technical problems encountered in the early stages of each launch. It had vowed to continue to make attempts until a successful launch.
South Korea salvaged debris from the failed first launch and said the satellite was too crude to perform effective military reconnaissance.
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