SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Thursday scrapped an attempt to fire its first satellite into orbit from its own soil amid speculation that North Korea was preparing to fire its own long-range rocket.
Scientists in South Korea cited technical problems with the rocket’s flight control system. It’s the second time in a month that Seoul has been forced to cancel a launch at the last minute as it attempts to join an elite group of nations that have launched satellites from their own land.
But it is North Korea’s rocket program that has raised worry in recent days. Two South Korean officials said Thursday that there are signs of preparations at a North Korean rocket site on the northwest coast. They declined to be named because of office rules preventing them from speaking publicly of intelligence matters.
A North Korean long-range rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff in April, but the attempt drew United Nations condemnation and worsened already tense relations between the Koreas.
Washington and Seoul say Pyongyang uses such rocket launches to develop missiles that could target the United States. Technology employed in scientific rocket launches can be easily converted into use for missiles.
North Korea says its launch attempts are part of a peaceful space program and are meant to put satellites into orbit.
Any North Korean launch in the next several weeks would be seen in Seoul as an attempt to influence South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election.
South Korea failed in its two previous rocket launches from its own soil in 2009 and 2010. South Korea has launched domestically-made satellites aboard foreign-made rockets from other countries since 1992.
South Korea’s 142-ton Naro’s first stage is built by Russia. Its South Korean-made second stage is meant to release a scientific satellite once it reaches orbit.
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