North Korea plans series of space launches
North Korea announced on Monday, Sept. 14, that it plans to conduct a series of launches to deliver its home-grown satellites to orbit. According to the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the first long-range rocket launch will take place on Oct. 10, marking the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
“The world will clearly see a series of satellites of (North) Korea soaring into the sky at the times and locations determined by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” the KCNA reported.
North Korea claims that it has the right to conduct space research by test-firing what it called rockets, which Western analysts view as a cover for missile tests. The country is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions from conducting tests that use ballistic missile technology.
“Space development in a peaceful manner is a sovereign country’s legitimate right. The Workers’ Party and North Koreans are full of determination to exercise this right,” the KCNA said.
The North insists that a new Earth observation satellite scheduled for the launch on Oct. 10 would gather data for weather forecasting. The country also stated that it’s developing geostationary satellites.
North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of missiles of various ranges, including intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at delivering nuclear weapons.
In December 2012, the North launched a long-range Unha 3 rocket, putting a satellite into orbit. Pyongyang called it a space launch vehicle, but the international community said it was a missile that violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. The U.S Northern Command said that the first stage of the Unha 3 rocket fell into the Yellow Sea, while the debris of the second stage was assessed to have fallen into the Philippine Sea and confirmed that an object had entered orbit.
American and South Korean intelligence officials monitor the North’s main launch site at Tongchang-ri in northwestern North Korea for signs of activity. Satellite images show that North Korea has completed upgrades to its launch pad. However, South Korea’s defense minister said last week there were no indications of actual preparations for a missile launch.
“As of September 6th, it appeared that there was no rocket present at the launch tower,” a source at the ministry said. “There is an outside chance it is being hidden there under an environmental cover but odds are there is nothing there. Nor are there any other signs at the facility of launch preparations. And it’s only three weeks until the anniversary.”
The 98 ft. (29.87 m) tall Unha is a three-stage launch vehicle. It uses storable liquid fuel.
With Monday’s announcement, the Unha program gets serious boost as more ambitious space launches are planned. Unha 4 and 5 are intended to launch Earth-observation satellites, Unha 6, 7, and 8 would presumably place into orbit communications satellites and Unha 9 would carry a lunar orbiter.
The development of launch vehicles by the North comes at a time when the nation lacks basic freedoms and infrastructure. Citizens of the impoverished nation have suffered under more than 70 years of communism. Famine has ravaged the population who are under threat of being placed in re-education camps or executed for the most minor of infractions. Ironically, the backward nature of the nation is perhaps best seen from space. Whereas South Korea shows up brightly lit from on orbit, North Korea cuts a swath of darkness between their modern cousins in the South and China to the North.
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.