Image: North Korean launch site
Bobby Yip / Reuters
In this photo from April, a soldier stands guard at North Korea's Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. during a press tour. April's launch was considered a failure, but North Korea now says it will launch an improved Unha rocket sometime in mid-December.
updated 12/1/2012 3:46:56 PM ET 2012-12-01T20:46:56

North Korea announced Saturday that it would attempt to launch a long-range rocket in mid-December, a defiant move coming just eight months after a failed April bid that was widely condemned as a violation of a U.N. ban against developing nuclear and missile programs.

The launch, set for Dec. 10 to 22, is likely to heighten already strained tensions with Washington and Seoul as the United States prepares for Barack Obama's second term as U.S. president and South Korea holds its own presidential election on Dec. 19.

This would be North Korea's second launch attempt under leader Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father Kim Jong Il's death nearly a year ago. The announcement by North Korea's space agency followed speculation overseas about stepped-up activity at North Korea's west coast launch pad captured in satellite imagery.

A spokesman for North Korea's Korean Committee for Space Technology said scientists have "analyzed the mistakes" made in the failed April launch and improved the precision of its Unha rocket and Kwangmyongsong satellite, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

KCNA said the launch was a request of late leader Kim Jong Il, who died last Dec. 17. North Koreans are expected to mark the anniversary with some fanfare. The space agency said the rocket would be mounted with a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite, and maintained its right to develop a peaceful space program.

Long-range missile test?
Washington considers North Korea's rocket launches to be veiled covers for tests of technology for long-range missiles designed to strike the United States, and such tests are banned by the United Nations.

North Korea has capable short- and medium-range missiles, but long-range launches in 1998, 2006, 2009 and in April of this year ended in failure. North Korea is not known to have succeeded in mounting an atomic bomb on a missile, but is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen bombs, according to U.S. experts. In 2010, the Pyongyang government revealed a uranium enrichment program that could provide a second source of material for nuclear weapons.

Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.

In Seoul, South Korean officials have accused North Korea of trying to influence its presidential election with what they consider provocations meant to put pressure on voters and on the United States as the North seeks concessions. Conservative Park Geun-hye, the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, is facing liberal Moon Jae-in in the South Korean presidential vote. Polls show the candidates in a close race.

Some analysts, however, question whether North Korean scientists have corrected whatever caused the misfire of its last rocket.

"Preparing for a launch less than a year after a failure calls into question whether the North could have analyzed and fixed whatever went wrong," David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the organization's website this week.

US says launch would be 'highly provocative'
The United States has criticized North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as a threat to Asian and world security. In 2009, North Korea conducted rocket and nuclear tests within months of Obama taking office.

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"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington. "Any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology is in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions."

North Korea under its young leader has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal unless Washington scraps what the North calls a "hostile" policy. North Korea maintains that it is building bombs to defend itself against what it sees as a U.S. nuclear threat in the region.

This year is the centennial of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un. According to North Korean propaganda, 2012 is meant to put the North on a path toward a "strong, prosperous and great nation."

"North Korea appears to be under pressure to redeem its April launch failure before the year of the 'strong, prosperous and great nation' ends," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.

He added that a successful rocket launch would raise North Korea's bargaining power with South Korea and the United States "because it means the country is closer to developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads."

No official notification
Before its last two rocket launches, North Korea notified the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization about its intentions to launch. IMO spokeswoman Natasha Brown said that as of Friday the organization had not been notified by North Korea.

The North's announcement comes two days after South Korea canceled what would have been the launch of its first satellite from its own territory. Scientists in Seoul cited technical difficulties. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the North's planned launch is "a grave provocation and a head-on challenge to the international community."

North Korea's missile and nuclear programs will be a challenge for Obama in his second term and for the incoming South Korean leader. Washington's most recent attempt to negotiate a freeze of the North's nuclear program and a test moratorium in exchange for food aid collapsed with the April launch.

In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would coordinate with the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia in strongly urging the North to refrain from the rocket launch. Kyodo News agency said Japan also postponed high-level talks with North Korea scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Washington stations nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea as a buttress against any North Korean aggression. Tens of thousands more are in nearby Japan.

AP writers Jean H. Lee and Sam Kim in Seoul, Jill Lawless in London, Thomas Strong in Washington and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: North Korea rocket launch fails

  1. Transcript of: North Korea rocket launch fails

    MADDOW: international news from North Korea , which tried to launch a long- range rocket just a couple of hours ago at about 7:39 a.m . local time , Friday morning, tomorrow morning in North Korea . The news is so recent that we do not yet have video of the launch and we, frankly, don't know if we'll ever get it. The footage shows the three- stage rocket being prepared for launch this week. North Korea said this rocket , this Unha-3 , was designed to carry a satellite into space, a communication satellite . They said it was for the good of the national economy. That's what they said. The launch , however, was the object of major international and, in particular, American consternation, because although no one particularly cares about whether or not North Korea has communication satellites , there are a lot of countries that care about whether or not North Korea has a long- range intercontinental missile that could theoretically be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to, say, us. North Korea 's military dictatorship denied any military purpose whatsoever for this rocket . But that was met internationally with something like skepticism but far more intense. Now, though, the major news here -- now that there has been a launch , it's technical. The major news here is that the launch appears to have failed. Instead of the rocket going up in three stages with each one burning off in turn and propelling the rocket upward eventually into orbit, which is how a three- stage rocket in this case is supposed to work, this one just launched in North Korea appears to have broken apart very soon after takeoff. A U.S. officially telling NBC News that the rocket fell harmlessly into the sea very shortly after liftoff. Now, North Korea has made other attempts at launching rockets. It tried in 2006 . It tried again in 2009 . The 2009 one crashed into the sea off the coast of Japan . Because of North Korea 's absolutely intransigent rejection of international norms and international pressure, the world at large has seemed to have very little means of getting North Korea to go along with international norms. Particularly it set very little means of pressuring North Korea to give up on the nuclear weapons program. But just a few weeks ago, the U.S. reached an agreement with North Korea . Well, not explicitly tying food aid to the country to military issues, the agreement pretty much did just tie food aid to military issues. The U.S. said that we will give North Korea the food aid that it desperately needs since so much of the country's resources go into its military . We will help feed the North Korean people if the North Korean government will agree to not test any more missiles. Before the launch today, the White House press secretary told reporters that if North Korea had -- were to go ahead with this missile launch , that would constitute a significant and clear demonstration of bad faith and would leave the U.S. unable to move forward with that program -- meaning that food aid program. He said it would make going ahead with that program, quote, "virtually impossible". Also today, before the launch , the U.S. secretary of state met with the other nations in the G-8 -- France , Germany , the U.K. , Japan , Canada , Italy , and Russia . Secretary Clinton emerged from that meeting with this message for North Korea 's government .

    HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If Pyongyang goes forward, we will all be back in the secretary council to take further action.

    MADDOW: But again, tonight, the breaking news, the nation of North Korea , just hours ago, attempted to launch a lock- range rocket against the demands of the United States and many American allies. U.S. officials tell NBC News that the launch failed. The rocket , which was said to be carrying a communications satellite , did not reach orbit. It crashed into the sea. And now for the rest of the world , the question that changes every time there's a development like this but never goes away, the question of how to deal with the strange and confounding nation of Korea remains. Joining us live from Pyongyang in North Korea is now Richard Engel , NBC News chief foreign correspondent. Richard , thank you so much for being with us. From Pyongyang , how did you learn the news that the rocket launch had happened?

    RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: We certainly didn't hear it from North Korean officials. North Korea has brought in about 100 reporters and we were expecting to have a press conference. There was some anticipation that we would even see this go up live or with a slight delay on video screens. But instead we were told by officials in Washington , we were alerted by our own news desk, there are reports coming out of Japan and South Korea that not only had the rocket gone up, but that it had failed. And one of the moments I'll remember today, as we rushed into the press center, the only place that has Internet , the only place that has computer access, and we saw our minder, our link to the government here and the minder said, OK, are you ready? We're going to go in a few hours to a music festival . We said, what, what music festival ? What are you talking about? There has just been a rocket launch . We were met with a completely blank stare and then he shrugged his shoulders and ran out of the room. Just a short while ago, there was an empty desk where officials were supposed to give us a briefing about what happened and we've just been told in a few hours, we're going to be taken by -- to some sort of military facility, perhaps to learn more information or to learn North Korea 's version of events. Rachel , I have a surprise for you. I have a scale model of the rocket which I keep with me at all times. And it shows the three- stage rocket that you were describing. This is the first stage , liquid fuel . Second stage , also liquid fuel . The third stage , not exactly sure, either liquid or solid. And it appears that the rocket exploded, crashed, failed sometime as the first stage was burning off and right around the time of separation. Because the way these work is first stage propels the rocket up and then it's supposed to break into two. The first stage drops into the ground, drops into the sea, in this case, and then the second stage continues. And we are told that somewhere between a minute and two minutes that this rocket failed, which would have been right around the time of the end of the first stage . This is an enormous embarrassment for North Korea and what is critical to see now is how the North Korean government is going to explain this to the world and explain it to its own people.

    MADDOW: Richard , given what you have been told about what the missile launch was nor in North Korea , the fact that you are there at all, that they are letting you see things, that they are trying to show this off to you in some way or other --

    ENGEL: I no longer have audio.

    MADDOW: Oh. I can hear Richard but he can't hear me. Richard , still can't hear me? All right. We have lost our connection with Richard Engel in Pyongyang -- talking to anyone in Pyongyang is an amazing thing in any case. It is notable that Richard is there. As he was mentioning, he's there part of essentially an international delegation of press into this closed military dictatorship of a country. The reason they did that and this even got a sort of rebuke from the White House this week was that the North Korean government was interested in showing off that they were doing this rocket launch , of course, denying any military purpose for this rocket whatsoever. Potential military use for this rocket is the thing that brought about so much international condemnation of their plans to do this. Now that it has failed, it is going to be very interesting to see how North Korea goes about explaining both the technical failure. Usually when they have a technical failure, they come up with some ornate blame system for coming up -- for expunging any responsibility for themselves for the technical failure. The fact that there are a lot of international journalists still in that country where they are coming up with some sort of an explanation for what's happened is itself a huge part of the political impact here. Joining

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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