(NSI News Source Info) SEOUL - February 3, 2009: North Korea appears to be preparing to test-launch an intercontinental missile amid growing tensions on the peninsula, a South Korean intelligence source was quoted as saying Feb. 3. The source, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies have recently spotted a train carrying a long cylindrical object believed to be a Taepodong-2 missile. Launch preparations are likely to be completed in a month or two, the source said. Seoul's defense ministry and National Intelligence Service refused to comment on the report. Several analysts have said the communist state may stage some event such as a long-range missile launch to test the resolve of the new U.S. administration. The North has raised tensions with the South in recent months. Last week it announced it was scrapping a non-aggression pact, and Feb. 1 it warned of a possible military conflict. A South Korean media report last year said the North has carried out an engine ignition test for a missile believed capable of reaching the U.S.' West Coast. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the engine was presumed to be for the Taepodong-2, with a range of 6,700 kilometers, or 4,150 miles. It said the test was conducted at a launch site being developed on the west coast. South Korea said last year the site was 80 percent complete. North Korea has a separate site at Musudan-ri on the east coast which was used to launch a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998 over Japan.The Taepodong-2 is a designation used to indicate a North Korean three-stage ballistic missile design that is the successor to the Taepodong-1. Very little is currently known about the missile design; on July 5, 2006, one was reportedly tested and, according to preliminary reports, failed around 35-40 seconds after launch, crashing into the ocean.
A Taepodong-2 missile was launched from there in July 2006, along with smaller missiles, but U.S. officials said it failed after about 40 seconds. The North conducted a nuclear weapons test in October 2006. It is not known whether it has the technical capability to fit an atomic warhead to a missile.