Seoul: North Korea is pressing ahead with preparation for a long-range rocket launch after extending its liftoff window by another week until December 29 because of technical problems.

An unidentified spokesman for the North’s Korean Committee of Space Technology told state media on Monday that scientists found a “technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket.”

The statement didn’t elaborate but said technicians were moving ahead with final preparations for the liftoff from a West coast launch site.

The second day of North Korea’s extended 20-day launch window began on Tuesday morning without signs of a liftoff.

The specifics of the rocket’s technical problems aren’t clear, but state media put out an overnight dispatch detailing the unusually cold weather and heavy snow hitting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

It’s North Korea’s second attempt of the year, and the fifth since 1998, to launch a rocket that the United Nations, Washington, Seoul and others call a cover meant to test technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States.

They have warned North Korea to cancel the launch or face a new wave of sanctions.

The North Koreans call the launch a peaceful bid to advance their space programme, and a last wish of late leader Kim Jong Il, who died a year ago, on December 17.

North Korea is also celebrating the centennial this year of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung, current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.

An April launch broke apart seconds after liftoff.

The announcement of the planned rocket launch has sparked worry because of the timing: South Korea and Japan hold key elections this month, President Barack Obama begins his second term in January, and China has just formed a new leadership.

The North had originally set up a 13-day launch window, starting yesterday, but it announced early on Sunday that it may delay the liftoff because of unspecified reasons.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that as far as the US can tell it’s simply a delay and North Korea still plans to launch the rocket.

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