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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.

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The Security Council acted after North Korea, on July 5, 2006, fired an earlier version of the Taepodong-2, which fell into the sea 40 seconds after launch, and then, on Oct. 9, 2006, conducted an underground nuclear test.

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South Korean scientists agree that, whatever North Korea had on the tip of the Taepodong-2, there was never any chance it would go into space.

"The launch was successful," says Lee Dok-joo, professor of aerospace engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, widely known as KAIST, "but the satellite was intentionally discarded." Normally, he adds, "a satellite has a signal, but we have no capability to detect this one."

Both Myung and Mr. Lee are involved in South Korea's plan to launch a satellite from a site near the South's southern coast in July.

Lee estimates the cost of a satellite at $100 million, in addition to between $200 million and $300 million for the rockets or missiles needed to send it into space. "There is some mystery" about the North Korean launch, he says, but believes "they built a dummy to save money."

Similarities with earlier missile test

Another factor adding to the conclusion that North Korea never had a satellite was the similarity between the latest episode and the launch on Aug. 31, 1998, of Taepodong-1, which also flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific. Then, as on Sunday, North Korea said the satellite went into space broadcasting patriotic paeans to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 but holds the title of "eternal president."

Scientists do not understand how North Korea could fail in such costly attempts if they ever intended to loft satellites in the first place. North Korea is believed to have obtained the technology from Iran, which has shot its own satellite into space.

Myung believes, though, that North Korea can count the launch as a success. "They shot a long-range missile farther than ever before," he says. This one went approximately 2,000 miles, twice the distance of Taepodong-1 and nearly half the distance needed to deliver a warhead to Alaska or Hawaii.

As for ever finding the debris from whatever North Korea had as the payload on the latest launch, "it may have been burnt up while returning to the Earth," says Kim Tae-woo, vice president of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

"As far as I know, their satellite technology is very outdated," says Mr. Kim. "They have tried to advance ballistic missile technology. They do not care about satellites."