TD-1 Launch Photo Quicklook
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. Subsequently the Korean Central News Agency [KCNA] released what it represented as a photo of the launch. The best available copy is the 301 x 397 pixel sattelite.jpg JPEG file from the KCNA website.
While there are no obvious artifacts indicative of fabrication or manipulation of this image, it does contain several curious features:
Making the not-implausible [though not self-evident] assumption that the sattelite.jpg JPEG image is a true depiction of the TD-1, a few additional observations suggest themselves.
- If, for analytical purposes, one substitutes magenta for the uniform white of the sky background, it becomes apparent that the image of the rocket in the sky is completely "unconnected" to the background terrain -- that is, the pure white of the sky and the pure white of the exhaust plume are reproduced at the same value, which could facilitate fabrication of the photo by obscuring any seams joining a terrain image with an image of a rocket. It is, however, not apparent why this would be necessary, since joining photos seamlessly is easily accomplished from a technical perspective, particularly when dealing with such a low resolution image.
- It is also noteworthy that there are significant areas of off-white pixels [not replaced by magenta in this enhanced image] directly to the left of the first stage of the rocket, as well as above the terrain horizon, and in the upper right corner of the image. It is equally notworthy that these off-color pixels define fairly rectilinear areas, which for visualization purposes have been depicted here with bright-blue lines. The off-color quasi-rectangular zone to the left of the first stage of the rocket is indeed particularly remarkable, as there is no readily apparent physical phenomenon that would account for this discoloration. This is a suggestive but not conclusive indication that an image [photographic or otherwise] of the rocket may have been super-imposed on a terrain image.
- These "features" may well be nothing more than artifacts of the process whereby an actual photograph was reproduced as a JPEG, since those familiar with JPEG images are painfully familiar with ease with which multitudinous artifacts of this sort are readily introduced into these extremly lossy images. What is more puzzling, however, is the peculiar aspect ratio of the rocket, which is roughly one-third longer relative to its apparent diameter than would be anticipated based on prior analysis by FAS, as well as the artwork produced by the National Air Intelligence Center. Hardbody edge definition is a well-known challenge within the imagery interpretation community, given the pesky "flare" image artifact frequently encountered at the border between the edge of the hardbody and the background region. Consequently, a precise definition of the apparent length-diameter ratio of the depicted rocket is not possible. Between the possibilities that the North Koreans have "stretched" the image of the rocket and the possibility they have stretched the rocket itself, it would seem at least slightly easier for North Korea to have stretched the image than to have stretched the rocket. Indeed, if one alters the aspect ratio of the image to make it perfectly square, the aspect ratio of the image of the rocket is restored to that which would be anticipated based on prior FAS and NAIC analysis, allowing for some uncertainty as to the precise configuration of the front end of the vehicle. It is not implausible to conjecture that an initially square image was compressed horizontally for representational purposes, a process which alone might account for the previously noted artifacts in the sattelite.jpg JPEG image.
- The aerodynamic control surfaces on the first stage are significantly larger than anticipated in the FAS and NAIC depictions. At least the FAS depiction [and presumably that of NAIC] was based on the fins of the ND-1 rocket which constitutes the first stage of the TD-1. It would seem that the larger TD-1 vehicle requires greater control authority and thus larger fin surfaces than were required by the ND-1.
- A number of structural seams are faintly discernable in the first stage of the rocket, which are consistent with the locations of the structural seams anticipated in the depiction produced by FAS analysis.
- The very bright region in the inter-stage area between the first and second stages of the rocket is suggestive of the open latice interstage designs used on early Russian and Chinese long-range missiles. Such a latice interstage was not anticipated in either the FAS or NAIC depictions of the TD-1 vehicle.
- The front-end of the vehicle is both longer and less conical than anticipated in the FAS and NAIC depictions. Indeed, the image faintly suggests but does not demonstrate that the front end is a "hammerhead" in which the payload shroud has a larger diameter than the upper stage. This configuration is not-inconsistent with North Korean claims that the flight was intended to launch a satellite rather than simply to test a missile. Of course, a satellite launch attempt would also validate the performance of the missile, and the image may have been intentionally modified to depict an apparent satellite launch vehicle.
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Updated Thursday, September 10, 1998 6:59:27 AM