North Korean launch (again)

Phillip Clark (
Mon, 7 Sep 1998 12:54:41 +0100 (BST)

In view of the continuing discussion concerning the reality of the North
Korean "satellite launch", I am showing below the entry which I have
published in the September 5th issue (page 71) of Worldwide Satellite
Launches (ISSN 1352-8203).  The paper copies of this publication were
mailed to subscribers today, September 7th, while the electronic version
was e-mailed to subscribers on September 5th.

Phillip Clark



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.

Phillip S Clark                                       25 Redfern Avenue
Molniya Space Consultancy                             Whitton
Compiler/Publisher, Worldwide Satellite Launches      Middx   TW4 5NA

Specialist in "space archeology" - the older and more obscure the more 
interesting it is !