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(LEAD) N. Korea extends rocket launch window until Dec. 29
SEOUL, Dec. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Monday it will extend the 13-day rocket launch window by one week until Dec. 29, citing technical problems in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket.

   Scientists and technicians have "found a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite and decided to extend the satellite launch period up to Dec. 29," said the North's Korean Central News Agency carrying a statement by the spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology.

   The statement stressed that North Korea is still "pushing forward" with the rocket launch and that they are at the "final stage" of preparations.

   The North's state media had previously said Sunday that the launch, originally scheduled for sometime between Dec. 10-22, could be delayed for unspecified "reasons," sparking speculation over technical problems on the long-range rocket.

   Satellite images last week showed that all three-stages of the rocket were set up on the launch pad in the nation's northwestern tip.

   In a sign that North Korea is not ready to carry out the planned launch, a Seoul government official said that as of Monday the North had not remove a camouflage net covering the rocket.

   Latest satellite images show that North Korea had moved a new rocket component to the launch site over the weekend, which is seen as the engine module for the first stage rocket, according to officials.

   As Pyongyang made clear that it decided to reschedule the liftoff window because of technical problems, watchers say the communist state will go ahead with firing the rocket as soon as it fixes the problems despite international pressure to drop the plan. The North unsuccessfully fired off a rocket in April.

   Although the North claims the launch is for "peaceful" purposes, many nations view it as a disguised ballistic missile test banned under U.N. resolutions prompted by the communisit country's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

   Some forecast the North may launch the rocket between Dec. 23-27, after the original timeline, but added that it will depend on the weather conditions.
The Korean Peninsula has been experiencing early winter storms and an unusual cold spell for early December, bringing snow to the North's northwestern tip, including to Dongchang-ri, the launch site.

   Experts say the North's rocket is designed to withstand freezing temperatures, but strong winds may have potential impact on the liftoff and may change the route of the rocket.
Min Kyung-joo, the head of South Korea's Naro Space Center, said if the problems are related to the control system or software for engine, the North may be able to fix the glitches within the month.

   "If the problems are related to technical glitches, not mechanical problems, it wouldn't take much time to recover it," Min said.

   In response to the North's announcement, South Korean military officials said they will maintain vigilant watch over North Korea's planned rocket launch.

   The Combined Forces Command last week raised its surveillance alert level to "Watchcon 2," a level issued when a "conspicuous threat" is anticipated.
ejkim@yna.co.kr
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