PYONGYANG, North Korea >> Engineers are pumping fuel into a rocket that is set to carry a satellite into space, officials at the North Korean space agency’s central command center said today, showing reporters a live feed of the west coast launch pad.
The live images of the Sohae site showed most of the Unha-3 rocket covered with a green tarp. The Kwangmyongsong-3 earth observation satellite, which was not visible in the feed, has been mounted and is draped with the tarp to protect it from the wind, Paek Chang Ho, chief of the General Launch Command Center, told reporters.
He said the rocket was ready for liftoff as early as Thursday, the start of a five-day window set for the controversial launch timed to coincide with mid-April celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
“We are injecting fuel as we speak,” Paek told reporters from a viewing platform in front of a large screen showing the live feed, as 16 scientists in white lab coats worked at computers below him. The central command center outside Pyongyang is where late leader Kim Jong Il and successor Kim Jong Un watched an April 2009 rocket launch, he said.
The United States, Britain, Japan and others have urged North Korea to cancel the upcoming launch, saying it would be considered a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is similar to rockets that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Along the road to the central command, new posters welcomed Workers’ Party delegates who are scheduled to convene Wednesday for the fourth conference of North Korea’s ruling political party. Kim Jong Un is expected to inherit new titles at the conference, including some held by his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December.