North Korean satellite experiences problems in orbit
The North Korean Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 satellite, which was launched into space last weekend on an Unha-3 rocket, has now been stabilized after initially “tumbling” in its orbit. Earlier reports had said that due to the difficulties, the spacecraft is incapable of functioning in any useful way. It is still unknown if the satellite is transmitting any data.
On Monday, a U.S. defense official told the media that Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 was useless due to the aforementioned issues. The source noted that this situation is similar to the previous North Korean launch in December of 2012, when the country also failed to successfully deliver a satellite into its targeted orbit.
However, the latest reports indicate that, despite initial problems, the satellite is now stabilized and has achieved its orbit. A U.S. official told Fox News that the satellite is now stable in orbit, while South Korean news agency Yonhap reveals that the spacecraft has achieved the targeted orbit. It is still unclear if Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 is operating as intended.
The satellite was launched atop an Unha-3 rocket at 9:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, Feb. 7 (00:30 GMT; 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Feb. 6), from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province.
North Korea insists that the mission’s task was to put an Earth-observation spacecraft into orbit, but Western countries believe it was a test of a banned missile capable of hitting the U.S. The Korean Central Television (KCTV), which is the only official source of television news in the isolated nation, stated that the launch is “legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes”. A 2006 UN resolution bans North Korea from carrying out nuclear tests or the launching of ballistic missiles.
According to information from U.S. Strategic Command, the Unha-3 rocket, after a short vertical ascent, started heading South over the Yellow Sea. South Korean and Chinese media report that the first stage of the rocket disintegrated into around 270 fragments and fell onto the western waters of South Korea about seven minutes into the flight.
“The two objects U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, through its Joint Space Operations Center, tracked following the launch of a North Korean missile into space – NORAD catalog identification numbers 41332 and 41333 – have been added to USSTRATCOM’s satellite catalog on the publicly-available website Space-Track.org,” U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement.
The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the flight, saying any launch using ballistic missile technology contributes to the North’s nuclear weapons delivery system. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers called for stronger sanctions on the communist country underlining that the launch was carried out just a month after the nation had conducted its fourth nuclear test. South Korean President Park Geun-hye called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss countermeasures.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.