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North Korea’s Planned Rocket Launch Has Southeast Asia on Edge

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images(SINGAPORE) -- The clock heard ticking around the world has Southeast Asia on edge as North Korea prepares a rocket launch, possibly by the end of the week.

North Korea claims the 90-ton Unha-3 rocket is simply a weather satellite, but the U.S. is concerned the launch is a secret attempt to test long-range ballistic missiles that could one day reach the West.

The rocket will be launched from North Korea’s new Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the northern part of the country, near its border with China.  It is expected to travel south by southwest, passing by South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.  It is expected to splash down in the waters off the coast of Australia.

But officials are concerned that faulty technology could compromise the rocket’s trajectory, resulting in a possible debris shower over inhabited areas. 

Maximo Sacro Jr., of the Philippine Astronomical Society, said at a briefing at the National Disaster Rick Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), “It is important that we know the time of the launch.  That is the bottom line.”

Exact timing will allow officials in the Philippines to estimate when the rocket’s two boosters will disengage.  The first is expected to do so very quickly and land in South Korean territory.  The second booster is expected to disengage at a much higher altitude about three to four minutes after the first, said Sacro.  It is expected to take another three to four hours before is crashes in Philippine territory.

Experts warn that because North Korea is so secretive about its technology, there is no way to know precisely how sophisticated or reliable the rocket’s guidance system is.  Disaster officials in the Philippines are warning local governments to prepare for emergency evacuations in case the rocket strays from its projected flight path and debris falls on land.

As of Thursday morning, the Philippine government put a no-fly and no-sail zone into effect in northeastern Luzon.  Officials do not expect the rocket to disintegrate into pieces, but are preparing for emergency measures.

The NDRRMC director said the agency is liaising with the U.S., Japan and South Korea to monitor developments.  Many countries are asking the U.S. for help to track the rocket from liftoff.  Both Japan and South Korea have said they are prepared to shoot down any rocket that strays into its territory.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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