North Korean launch

Worldwide Satellite Launches (ISSN 1352-8203).
September 5th issue (page 71)

Phillip Clark

UNCONFIRMED LAUNCH REPORT - PRELIMINARY ENTRY ONLY 1998 Aug 31.13 (No name) Musudan-ri 50 kg? Reported orbital launch Taepo Dong 1

On September 4, 1998 the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea announced that North Korea had launched its first satellite on August 31 at 12.07 local time (03.07 GMT). The launch announcement claimed that what had been though to have been a missile launch which had caused international comment on August 31 had actually been their first satellite launch. The three-stage launch vehicle is said to have been flown from Musudan-ri, Hwadae County, North Hamgyong Province (estimated to be approximately 41 deg N, 130 deg E) at an azimuth of 86 deg (which implies an orbital inclination close to 41 deg) and "correctly put the satellite into orbit" after four minutes 53 seconds. The launch vehicle's first stage separated 95 seconds after the launch: the second stage "opened the capsule" (possibly meaning the separation of the payload shroud) 144 seconds after launch and separated at 266 seconds: the third stage is claimed to have put the satellite into orbit 27 seconds after the separation of the second stage.

The launch announcement stated that the satellite was in an orbit with a period of 165 minutes, perigee 218.82 km and apogee of 6,978.2 km: no orbital inclination was given. It went on to claim that:-
The satellite is equipped with necessary sounding instruments. It will contribute to promoting scientific research for [the] peaceful use of outer space. It is also instrumental in confirming the calculation basis for the launch of practical satellites in the future. The satellite is now 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.

None of the usual amateur radio satellite observers have reported hearing anything of these claimed transmissions.

Although the North Koreans claimed that this was a successful orbital launch there is no evidence that anything actually reached orbit. USSPACECOM tracked nothing in orbit which could relate to this launch and this cannot be a repeat of the "missed" EXPRESS 1 orbital launch in January 1995. In the case of EXPRESS 1 the satellite came down after less than two orbits and a retrospective search of USSPACECOM's data found some preliminary tracking data from the launch which was never officially assigned to a launch: on the other hand the announced data for the North Korean launch would result in the satellite and third stage remaining in orbit for an extended period - ie, if USSPACECOM had initially missed the launch then with the announced data it would be easy to back-track and find the satellite in orbit. Although ITAR-TASS announced on September 4 that the Russians had tracked the launch as an orbital one, the orbital parameters which they gave were identical to those announced by North Korea, including the omission of an orbital inclination. Therefore, the veracity of the Russian claims must be in doubt with no supporting evidence.

There are two possibilities: one is that this was an unsuccessful orbital attempt and the other is that this was a missile test (as originally reported on August 31) and that the claim of an orbital flight was simply a cover story to try and make the missile test less threatening. The latter option appears to be the most probable one.

The launch vehicle has been identified as Taepo Dong 1 (believed to be named after a geographical region near the launch site): if it has any basis in reality then this would be a liquid-propellant two-stage Taepo Dong 1 missile with a small solid-propellant third stage added for the final orbital injection.


Publication of the monthly Worldwide Satellite Launches started in
February 1993 following the demise of the Tables of Earth Satellites
which had been issued via the DRA/Royal Aircraft Establishment.

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Phillip S Clark         [email protected]
Molniya Space Consultancy
25 Redfern Avenue, Whitton, Middx  TW4 5NA  (U.K.)