The North first announced the planned launch last month.

It has said the rocket will carry the country's second satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2, following what it has claimed was a previous satellite launch in 1998.

Missile tests banned

In 2006 the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning North Korea from conducting long-range missile tests.

N Korea's 'space programme'

North Korea says it launched its first satellite, Kwangmyongsong-1 (right), into orbit aboard a Taepodong 1 rocket in 1998

It says the satellite launch was successful, beaming a looped recording of the Song of General Kim Il Sung back to Earth

US space command said at the time it was unable to find any North Korean satellite in orbit

North Korea says it is now preparing to launch the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite on top of what it has called an Unha-2 rocket

The resolution followed what is believed to have been a failed test of a Taepodong-2 missile that blew up less than a minute into flight.

Analysts say that whether this latest launch is intended to put a satellite into orbit or is a missile test will only become clear after the event, when the rocket's flight path can be analysed.

However, earlier this week the US National Intelligence Director said he believed the launch may well be an attempt to fire a satellite into orbit.

"The North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they intend," Dennis Blair said in testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, he said the difference between the technologies involved in space launch rockets and long-range missiles was largely irrelevant.

Blair noted that if the rocket successfully launches a satellite, it could also be used to threaten Alaska and other western parts of the US in the form of a missile.

"The technology is indistinguishable from an intercontinental ballistic missile," he told the senate committee.

Danial Pinkston, Seoul-based project director of the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict prevention organisation, told Al Jazeera he also believed the rocket would be configured for a satellite launch.

'Propaganda value'

"In the domestic political context it makes a lot of sense because of the propaganda value," he said, noting that a successful North Korean launch would beat rival South Korea which also plans to launch a satellite on its own launch vehicle later this year.

North Korean state media has defended what it says is its sovereign right to a space programme and has warned that any attempt to interfere with the launch will be regarded as an act of war.

Neighbouring Japan warned on Thursday that it would "not tolerate" any act by North Korea that raised regional tensions.

"The Japanese government urges the North to exercise self-restraint," a foreign mi9nistry spokesman told reporters in Tokyo.

"Even if it is a satellite launch, there is an international understanding that it would violate UN Security Council resolutions."

The anticipated launch comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with the North claiming that "hostile" policies of the South Korean government are pushing the two rivals to war.

On Monday North Korea cut off the last remaining military-to-military communications link with the South in protest against at the start of joint US-South Korean military exercises.

It says the 12-day war games are a prelude to war.