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North Korea used dummy satellite, South Korean experts say

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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.

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.

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."

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