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North Korea space launch possibly imminent, say US officials

Pyongyang seems to be preparing for "some kind of launch," possibly to send a satellite into space, analysts and US officials say. The reports come just weeks after North Korea claimed a successful hydrogen bomb test.

The US has noted an increased activity at a North Korean launch site, indicating preparations for a possible space launch in the near future, unnamed US officials said on Thursday.

"Could be for a satellite or a space vehicle - there are a lot of guesses. North Korea does this periodically - they move things back and forth," one of the officials told the AFP news agency.

There was nothing to indicate the launch was "ballistic-missile related," he added.

At the same time, another US official said that Pyongyang typically uses its space program for

developing ballistic missiles.

"Our concern is that when they do a space launch, it happens to be the same components that can be used in an ICBM," or intercontinental ballistic missile, the official stated.

North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in late 2012, successfully putting an object into orbit. Pyongyang said the device was a communications satellite. The satellite soon malfunctioned.

The communist regime claims that it already has long-range missiles capable of reaching the US, but most experts agree that the technology is still out of reach for the Asian country.

Clashing accounts of the H-bomb test

Tensions surrounding the North Korean nuclear program were boosted on January 6, after the nation's officials announced they successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen-based weapon would be a large leap from the plutonium and uranium-based devices Pyongyang had tested before.

Karte Nordkorea Punggye-ri Englisch

A seismic event was reported on January 6 near Punggye-ri nuclear test site

The US, however, did not believe that event was a hydrogen bomb test, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Thursday.

Pyongyang may have attempted to test components of such a device, the American news network CNN reported on the same day, citing an unnamed US official. The latest US assessments indicate that the explosion may have been a partial, failed test, possibly activating only a detonator that can be used in a hydrogen weapon, according to the CNN's source.

However, it is possible that the North Koreans believe they conducted a full hydrogen bomb test, he added.

The January testing sparked a flurry of

diplomatic activity

to put new sanctions on the world's most isolated country.

dj/jr (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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