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North Korea used dummy satellite, South Korean experts say

Their assertion boosts US view that Pyongyang used Sunday’s launch to develop long-range missile technology, not to explore space.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / April 7, 2009

Blastoff: South Koreans Tuesday watched a news program on North Korea's Sunday missile launch. Pyongyang insists its sent a satellite into orbit, but South Korean scientists have found no corresponding signal.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

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Seoul, South Korea

The satellite that North Korea insists it has sent into orbit was evidently a dummy that the North manufactured to justify testing a Taepodong-2 missile, South Korean space experts say.

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The apparent use of a dummy that looked like a satellite on the launch pad boosts US, Japanese, and South Korean claims that the North fired its long-range missile on Sunday to continue developing the technology rather than to pursue space exploration.

Disagreement over North Korea's motivation is one issue blocking the UN from issuing a resolution on Sunday's launch. China, which wields veto power on the UN Security Council, says it's still unclear if North Korea launched a missile or a satellite.

Scientists and engineers here disagree. "They cannot have been shooting a real satellite," says Myung Noh-hoon, director of the Space Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the country's leading base for science and engineering. "They did not build a satellite."

Mr. Myung, in charge of development of South Korea's satellites in his facility in the city of Daejeon, about 90 miles south of here, bases that assessment on two realities.

First, he says, in the two days since the missile was launched, we have been "trying to catch the signal from the satellite." That was not possible, he says, "because it was a dummy, not a real one."

Second, he adds, while North Korean scientists and engineers are known to have built several hundred short- and mid-range missiles as well as nuclear warheads, there's never been any sign of fabrication of a satellite.

"I never heard of them building a satellite," says Myung. "Their level of satellite technology is lower than South Korea's." Six South Korean satellites have gone into space successfully from launch sites in other countries. In July Seoul plans to launch a 100-kilogram (220-pound) satellite – its first from South Korean soil.

The Taepodong-2 launched Sunday landed in the Pacific Ocean along with its original payload. The US North American Aerospace Defense Command reported shortly afterward that a satellite had failed to go into orbit.

No UN violation, North Korea insists

North Korea, meanwhile, insists that the launch was meant for space exploration and therefore did not violate UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 2006 banning North Korea from conducting nuclear tests or developing and launching missiles capable of delivering warheads.

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