True to its words, North Korea did launch a long-range rocket towards space today. While the country claims it was another satellite, the rest of the world remains skeptical, thinking it might be a covert missile test.
Much to the chagrin of the rest of the world, North Korea fired a rocket from its Sohae rocket launch site. The country had been prepping something for launch. The “something” still can’t be confirmed because North Korea had literally kept the same under a shroud of mystery. Before the rocket took off today at 9 a.m. local time, satellite images appeared to confirm that the country had put a cover on its missile launcher, making the situation inside hard to detect, reported Inside Korea.
In simple words, the country was well-aware of the satellites hovering around earth that would certainly try and figure out what the country was planning to launch, and hence chose to cover the launcher to prevent snooping eyes to decipher its true intentions. The country, though, glorified the launch and proclaimed that it had successfully launched an “earth observation satellite,” a claim that was repeated a number of times over state run television broadcast.
The country clearly defied international warnings and went ahead with the launch of a long-range rocket. While the country claims the launch, Pyongyang’s sixth, was merely intended to put a peaceful satellite into orbit that would “help science and technology, and agriculture and military,” the country’s immediate neighbor, South Korea, and other countries, like Japan and the United States, were quick to condemn it, claiming the launch was nothing more than a ruse to test long-range ballistic missile technology.
According to North Korea’s KCNA, the attempt was successful. The news agency even reported that the satellite entered orbit just under 10 minutes after lift-off, reported RT. Ironically, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency insists that the rocket never managed to escape earth’s atmosphere. The agency claimed the rocket “burn[ed] up” and fell into the ocean to the southwest of Jeju Island, off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea maintains that it is within its rights as a sovereign nation to conduct space missions. The country insists that it was “legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes.” However, nations that have been keeping a close watch on North Korea’s developments in the military sector feel the rocket did not launch an earth observation satellite, which North Korea has named “Kwangmyongsong-4”. Instead, the launch was a not just an excuse to test out a ballistic missile, but also “an unacceptable provocation,” claimed South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Meanwhile, South Korea’s deputy chief of national security, Cho Tae-yong, promised that “the government will continue to put necessary pressure on North Korea so that North Korea has no other choice but to change,” reported the Diplomat.
America has a valid reason to be wary of the rocket launch. Some reports indicate that the missile’s payload could be as large as 500kg (1,100lbs). Though satellites weighing a lot more have been launched by world leaders, Sunday’s launch was many times the size of the Unha 3 missile payload. North Korea had put a satellite in space way back in December, 2012. The country had used an indigenously built rocket, which it had christened Unha 3. A few regional experts even indicated the new rocket could have an extensive range of 13,000 km (8,000 miles). If true, North Korea now possess a rocket that can potentially target any location in the continental United States, reported BBC. Moreover, a 500-kg payload is worryingly similar to that of a nuclear weapon.
Since low-orbit artificial satellites can be easily tracked, it would soon become clear if North Korea has indeed launched a peaceful earth observation satellite.
[Update at 3:55 p.m. EST] Tracking Data published by the Joint Space Operations Center confirm the North Korean satellite is in an orbit of 466 by 501 Kilometers, inclined 97.5 degrees, along with the spent rocket body in a lower orbit of 432 x 502 kilometers, reported SpaceFlight 101. This essentially means the country did place a satellite. However, it could take a while to ascertain if it is “alive.” A live satellite transmits signals.
[Photo by Pedro Ugarte/Getty Images]