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Seoul (AFP) Dec 13, 2012
The satellite launched by North Korea's long-range rocket is in operational orbit, South Korea's defence ministry said Thursday, confirming the apparent success of Pyongyang's stated space mission.
The satellite sent into space by the North's Unha-3 rocket on Wednesday, is "orbiting normally", ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters.
"It is not yet known what kind of mission the satellite is conducting. It usually takes two weeks to evaluate whether a satellite is successful. For the time being, it is working normally," Kim said.
North Korea said Wednesday's launch was a purely scientific mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite in space.
Most of the world saw it as a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions imposed after the North's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
For the international community, the precise nature of the satellite -- along with the question of whether it is operating properly -- is largely immaterial.
The main concern is that the rocket succeeded in delivering its payload successfully, marking an important step forward for Pyongyang's long-range missile programme.
Analysis by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute showed the satellite was moving between 494 and 588 kilometres above the Earth -- nearly in line with the figures announced by the North on Wednesday-- Yonhap news agency said.
The UN Security Council has condemned the launch and warned of possible measures over what the US called a "highly provocative" act.
The council made it clear it considered the North had used proscribed "ballistic missile technology" and highlighted a warning made after a failed launch in April that it could take "action" if there was a new attempt.
N. Korea rocket launch casts shadow over South election
Although analysts are divided about the impact of the launch on the actual outcome of the December 19 ballot, they largely agree that the eventual winner will now face new constraints in moulding his or her own North Korea policy.
The conventional wisdom suggests that the conservative front-runner Park Geun-Hye from the ruling New Frontier Party will benefit from any heightened public concern in the wake of Wednesday's launch.
Park is the daughter of South Korea's late military strongman Park Chung-Hee and her party is traditionally seen as strong on national security and North Korea in particular.
By contrast, the liberal opposition candidate, Moon Jae-In, is best known as a top aide in the administration of former president Roh Moo-Hyun who had pursued his predecessor's "sunshine policy" of engagement with North Korea.
"Overall the launch will work in favor of Park Geun-Hye," said Baek Seung-Joo of the Institute of Defense Analyses in Seoul.
"It will fan hostility and disappointment about the North under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un and will help boost the argument of conservative hawks in the South," Baek said.
Both candidates condemned the launch, with Park urging voters to remain calm and pick a leader with "a firm determination to guard our nation and sovereignty."
Some analysts however suggested the launch also provided Moon's camp with some ammunition, allowing it to cast doubts on the benefits of the ruling party's hardline stance on Pyongyang under outgoing President Lee Myung-Bak.
When Lee came to power in 2008 he cut off aid to the impoverished North, saying future food and other shipments would be conditional on progress in persuading Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme.
But the policy had little success in bringing Pyongyang to heel.
In 2009 it carried out its second nuclear test, in 2010 it shelled a South Korean border island, and in April this year conducted a failed long-range rocket launch which was eventually followed by Wednesday's success.
"These are clear signs of security incompetency by the ruling camp," Moon said Wednesday, accusing Park's party and Lee's administration of intelligence failures in predicting the timing of the latest launch.
"Many voters are now sceptical about the current government's hardline policy toward Pyongyang," said Park Kie-Duck, a former president of the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul.
"Park Geun-Hye has accused the Sunshine Policy of the past liberal governments as appeasement, but it has also turned out that pressure and containment simply did not work," Park said.
Whatever spin the candidates place on the launch, most analysts agree the event will have little impact in determining the actual election outcome.
The majority of South Koreans, largely inured to the provocative acts of their communist neighbor, took the launch in their stride and are far more focused on issues like economic reform, job creation and welfare.
"The time has long passed when the so-called 'North Wind' had a sway over the South's election results," said Kim Neung-Gou of consulting company, Polinews.
The greater impact will be on the policies followed by the eventual winner of the ballot.
Both Park and Moon have signalled a desire for closer engagement with Pyongyang and even a possible summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, though Moon has gone further with a vow to resume aid without pre-conditions.
Lee Tai-Hwan, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, said whichever candidate enters the presidential Blue House would be constrained by global sentiment over Pyongyang's flouting of UN resolutions.
"They will certainly not abandon their current approaches wholesale just because of the rocket launch, but they will have less room to formulate policies on North Korea on their own," said Lee.
"Coordination with the international community, especially the United States and China, will be the top priority in dealing with North Korea for a while," he added.
Military Space News at SpaceWar.com
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