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North Korea Space Guide

North Korea launched the first medium-range Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile from the northeastern part of North Korea shortly after noon on 31 August 1998. The rocket landed in the high seas off the Sanriku coast of Japan, after flying over the Japanese island of Honshu before plunging into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea's test evoked swift condemnation in the region and beyond. Many analysts speculated on Pyongyang's possible motives for conducting its provocative launch at this juncture. North Korea may have been intent on demonstrating a "show of force" in advance of the 50th anniversary of its founding on September 9 and the expected installation of Kim Jong-Il as "paramount leader" of the secretive Stalinist state. The launch probably had multiple purposes: to serve as an advertisement for the country's missile technology, and to serve as a bargaining chip to win concessions from the US.

On 04 September 1998 the Korean Central News Agency broadcast a report claiming the successful launch of the first North Korean artificial satellite, Kwangmyongsong-1. As of 09 September 1998 US Space Command has not been able to confirm North Korean assertions. US Space Command has not observed any object orbiting the Earth that correlates to the orbital data the North Koreans have provided in their public statements. Additionally, US Space Command has not observed any new object orbiting the Earth in any orbital path that could correlate to the North Korean claims. Lastly, no US radio receiver has been able to detect radio transmissions at 27 megahertz corresponding to the North Korean claims. Efforts by US Space Command personnel to locate the alleged North Korean satellite are continuing.

Initial reports that Russian military space forces had confirmed that the satellite was in orbit have subsequently been disconfirmed.

The North Korean report claimed that North Korean scientists and technicians succeeded in launching an artificial satellite aboard a multi-stage rocket into orbit. According to the report, the rocket was launched in the direction of 86 degrees at a launching station in Musudan-ri, Hwadae county, North Hamgyong Province at 12:07 August 31, Juche 87 (1998) and correctly put the satellite into orbit at 12 hours 11 minutes 53 seconds in four minutes 53 seconds.

The launch vehicle was said to consist of three stages. The first stage was reported to have separated from the rocket 95 seconds after the launch and fell on the open waters of the East Sea of Korea 253 km off the launching station, that is 40 degrees 51 minutes north latitude 139 degrees 40 minutes east longitude [subsequently corrected informally by KCNA to 132 40E instead of 139 40E]. According to the report, the second stage "opened the capsule in 144 seconds" [the meaning of this phrase is obscure, but may relate to the jetisoning of an aerodynamic shroud protecting the payload and upper stage] and separated itself from the rocket in 266 seconds and fell on the open waters of the Pacific Ocean 1,646 km off from the launching station, that is 40 degrees 13 minutes north latitude 149 degrees 07 minutes east longitude. The report claimed that the third stage put the satellite into orbit 27 seconds after the separation of the second stage.

The satellite was reported to be in an eliptical orbit with a perigee of 218.82 km and an apogee of 6,978.2 km, with an orbital period of 165 minutes 6 seconds. The satellite was said to be equipped with sounding instruments which "will contribute to promoting scientific research for peaceful use of outer space." The report noted that "it is also instrumental in confirming the calculation basis for the launch of practical satellites in the future." The report claimed that the satellite was transmitting "the melody of the immortal revolutionary hymns "Song of General Kim Il Sung" and "Song of General Kim Jong Il" and the morse signals "Juche Korea" in 27 mhz. The report also noted that the "successful launch of the first artificial satellite in the DPRK greatly encourages the Korean people in the efforts to build a powerful socialist state under the wise leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il."

The announed 27Mhz frequency, which was not particularly precise, is the Citizens Band [CB] used by truck drivers and other mobile travelers. There were no immediately available confirmations of receptions of these radio transmissions. Because of the claimed orbital characteristics of the satellite, the transmissions would be difficult to receive in northern Europe, while in principle they should be much easier to receive in the United States, absent interference from terrestrial CB users. Various observers monitored the 27 MHz band and failed to detect these transmissions.

United States Space Command had not cataloged any objects associated with this launch, and the United States was not able to immediately confirm or deny this claim. As of late 04 September 1998 the only response of the United States Space Command was:

U.S. Space Command is in the process of evaluating North Korean assertions of having placed a satellite into orbit. We are continuing to analyze the data as it is received.
According to a report published in the 05 September 1998 edition of the Washington Post:
"Intelligence analysts noticed from the data they intercepted from the missile that it had a flight path that was "a bit odd," said the senior official, who, like several other U.S. defense officials, asked not to be named. "There appears that something separated from the second stage and it appears to have some thrust behind it," he said. In trying to explain why U.S. officials did not immediately identify the object, given the intelligence priority the U.S. government says it places on missile proliferation in North Korea, the official said: "If there were a device and it was very small, it wouldn't be easily detectable. A small satellite isn't the first thing we would be concerned about."

One source of insight into the physical plausibility of the claim is a comparison between the TD-1 rocket and the Jupiter-C rocket that was used to launch the first American satellite, Explorer-1. The TD-1 first stage is a modified ND-1 single stage rocket, which is apparently derived from either the Soviet R-13, known in the west as the SS-N-4, had a launch weight 13,700 kg, or the R-21, designated the SS-N-5 had a launch mass of nearly 20,000 kg. The second stage of the TD-1 is apparently a modified SCUD, with a mass of 5,800 kg. Thus the total lift-off mass of the TD-1 might be estimated to be in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 kg, which does not compare unfavorably with the 29,000 kg liftoff mass of the Jupiter-C launch vehicle. While the two-stage TD-1 design [or a three-stage space-launch variant] is not the most elegant imaginable, it does offer more effecient staging than the four-stage Jupiter-C, in which virtually all the propulsion capability was contained in the first stage. The three upper stages of the Jupiter-C, which consisted of clusters of modified Sergeant solid rockets motors, had an aggregate mass of only 625 kg. This mass is consistent with the range of throw-weights associated with the TD-1 if employed as a medium-range ballistic missile.

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Maintained by Steven Aftergood
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Tuesday, September 08, 1998 1:45:00 PM