North Korea's Planned Satellite Launch Sounds More Like a Missile Test

By Eliza Strickland | February 25, 2009 8:53 am

North KoreaThe North Korean government announced yesterday that it’s preparing to launch a communications satellite on a North Korean-made rocket, a move that has been widely interpreted as a test firing of its long-range missile. South Korea and the United States say any test-firing, whether a purported satellite launch or a missile test, would be provocative since the technology is dual-use, and would breach UN resolutions [AFP]. Experts say that the long-range Taepodong-2 rocket has a range of about 4,200 miles, which gives it the theoretical capacity to hit Alaska. But in the only previous test of the long-range rocket, in 2006, it exploded 40 seconds after launch.

North Korea has insisted that the launch is a purely scientific endeavor. “The preparations for launching an experimental communications satellite … are now making brisk headway,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency said. “When this satellite launch proves successful, the nation’s space science and technology will make another giant stride forward in building an economic power” [Reuters]. South Korean news sources have reported that the rocket has not yet been moved to the launch pad, but that there is a great deal of activity around the site.

North Korea has previously launched medium-range rockets over Japan in what were seen as political gestures, which caused Japan to invest in missile defense systems. If North Korea launched another missile in the direction of Japan, it would enter airspace that is protected by Aegis antiballistic missiles, which are deployed on Japanese and U.S. Navy destroyers in the Sea of Japan and designed to intercept incoming missiles in mid-flight. As a secondary layer of defense, Tokyo is also protected by a Patriot missile system. These systems raise the possibility that a North Korean missile — even one advertised in advance as a peaceful space probe — could be destroyed in flight. Analysts say knocking down a North Korean missile could precipitate a much greater regional crisis [Washington Post].

World leaders have warned North Korea to call off the launch, saying that it could lead to tighter sanctions and the breakdown of talks regarding the country’s nuclear program. North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006. But experts say it does not yet have the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a missile [BBC News].

Related Content:
80beats: Iran Gets Its Sputnik Moment With First Successful Satellite Launch
80beats: Pentagon Disputes Iran’s Boast of Sending a Rocket Into Orbit
DISCOVER: Shield of Dreams explains what it would take to build an antiballistic system

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    If North Korea is Officially belligerant and lethally dangerous, stop sending North Korea continuing massive chraitable shipments of food and fuel. We observe a manufactured problem and its politically useful contingencies.

  • Roberto

    If the North Koreans hae nothing to hide, then they would allow the U.N. officials to inspect their “Satellite” with no question! But they are looking at this point in time a touch untruthful.
    The aid they receive is never seen by the people in the country who need help anyway. The one million man army gets the food and fuel; everyone else can eat grass as far as the government is concerned. China helps them (North korea) out with food and other needs, but it is the common person in this country that will suffer, not the top brass. North Korea is one of the countries that need to be watched more so than any other country in the World.

  • Stephanie

    I wonder when all of these dumb governments are going to realize that nuclear technology is a NO WIN situation. Of course, we here in the US are in no position to tell people what to do, being that we have tons of nukes and are the only nation to have ever dropped one on human beings… but what do we do, get rid of ours first? Too many people hate us. What a messed up world their handing us!

  • jobsis

    Hi………..25th april 2009 here ……just wondering if anyone else thinks it’s strange that the direction of that missile would have put it in mexican airspace if it actually had a 4th stage on it………..I noticed that the 3rd stage was not reliably tracked………a bio weapon payload perhaps?

  • http://capoeirameister.de/ Lawanna Westrope

    There are some attention-grabbing closing dates in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There is some validity however I’ll take hold opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish extra! Added to FeedBurner as well

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