Wednesday, September 16, 2015

North Korea Plans a Series of Space Launches

Unha-3 rocket at the Tangachai-Ri Space Centre. Photo Credit: AFP

North Korea announced Monday, Sept. 14, that it plans to conduct a series of launches to deliver its home-grown satellites into space. According to the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the first long-range rocket launch on Oct. 10, will mark 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 revealed 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 showed 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. 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.

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