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Did North Korea Launch A Satellite?

KCNA photo of North Korean Taepo Dong 1 rocket launch
Picture said to be North Korea Taepo Dong 1 rocket launch
Korean Central News Agency [KCNA]
Yes, on December 12, 2012, North Korea sucessfully launched to orbit the Kwangmyongsong 3 (Lode Star 3) satellite on an Unha three-stage rocket from Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

It was the nation's first success in three tries.

Earlier attempts. North Korea tried to launch to orbit a "very small satellite" on August 31, 1998, according to that nation's government as well as the U.S. State Department and the South Korean Foreign Ministry. Apparently the satellite failed to reach orbit as it could not be found in space by U.S. military and other trackers.

North Korea said the satellite was in space, circling the Earth, transmitting revolutionary hymns praising the late President Kim Il Sung and his son and heir, Kim Jong Il. They even said the satellite was visible to the naked eye in October. However, the United States and South Korea said they were unable to detect the satellite in space or its transmissions from space.

North Korea named the satellite Kwangmyongsong No. 1 or Bright Star No. 1.

The Rocket. The launch vehicle was said to be a three-stage rocket known as Taepo Dong 1 -- a modified Russian Scud missile. As a military missile, it could have a ground-to-ground range of 1,250 to 3,000 miles. That puts targets in South Korea and Japan within range, although flight control may be very inaccurate at this stage in the booster's development.

North Korea said the first two rocket stages were liquid-fueled, while the third stage used a solid propellant. The launch pad was said to be in Musudan-ri, Hwadae county, North Hamgyong Province of North Korea.

As the rocket flew along its path, its first stage fell into the Sea of Japan and the second stage flew over the country of Japan and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. If there were a satellite aboard the rocket, it would have been carried in the third stage. Some reports indicated the third-stage booster splashed down just 27 seconds after separating from the second stage.

The Satellite. The North Korean government claimed the satellite entered an eliptical orbit ranging from about 135 miles altitude out to about 4,350 miles. It was said to circle Earth every 165 minutes 6 seconds.

Bright Star No. 1 was said to be equipped with sounding instruments for scientific research and a radio transmitting the words "Juche Korea" in Morse code on a frequency near 27 MHz. The radio also was said to be transmitting two revolutionary musical themes, the Song of General Kim Il Sung and the Song of General Kim Jong Il.

Whether or not a satellite launch was attempted, the blast off seemed to indicate that North Korea might have a capability to deliver a weapons payload over a long distance. That capability was seen as a threat to its Asian neighbors. Subsequently, Japan designed, built and launched its first spy satellites to monitor such North Korean activities.

Taepo Dong 2. The North Korean government test-fired a larger Taepo Dong 2 rocket on July 5, 2006, according to news reports. The rocket apparently failed less than a minute after launch. It was not known whether its launch intentionally coincided with or was coincidental with the approximate launch time of the American space shuttle Discovery, which traveled to orbit July 4, 2006.

News reports held that additional smaller missiles were fired at about the same time.

North Korea has hundreds of ballistic missiles of various capabilities, according to the Reuters news agency, which said the Asian nation has some 600 Scud missiles and 200 Rodong missiles.
  • Scud flights range out to around 200-400 miles. They have names such as Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6.

  • Rodongs can travel 600-800 miles.

  • Taepodong-1 is a missile with multiple liquid-fuel rocket stages that can fly 1,000-1,500 miles. It's the type of missile launched over Japan in 1998.

  • Taepodong-X is a solid-fuel rocket that can fly 1,500-2,500 miles.

  • Taepodong-2 also is a multi-stage liquid-fuel missile, which might be able to fly 2,500-3,000 miles. With additional boost in the future, it might become able to fly 3,000-4,500 miles.
The news agency reported its sources included the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Rand, South Korean Defence Ministry, and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

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