Posts tagged Unha
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, says it tracked the North Korean rocket launch and that it appears to have placed an object in orbit.
Here’s the statement, issued out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, NORAD said:
North American Aerospace Defense Command officials acknowledged today that U.S. missile warning systems detected and tracked the launch of a North Korean missile at 7:49 p.m. EST. The missile was tracked on a southerly azimuth. Initial indications are that the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea. The second stage was assessed to fall into the Philippine Sea. Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit. At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America.
Earlier in the day, North Korean state media said the Unha-3 rocket had successfully placed a satellite into space.
If the country has successfully placed a satellite into space, it’s a huge moment for the country’s scientists. If the satellite turns out to work, it will be bigger still.
North Korea’s state media has claimed success in its attempt to put a satellite in orbit.
Here’s the KCNA bulletin that ran just after noon local time:
The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province by carrier rocket Unha-3 on Wednesday.
The satellite entered its preset orbit. — KCNA, December 12, 2012.
And here’s the special news broadcast that went out on state TV at just before 12:05pm on Wednesday:
So much for delays, technical problems and bad weather. (And so much for satellite imagery analysis!) North Korea launched its rocket on Wednesday morning local time at a little before 10am in the morning, according to reports from regional governments.
The missile was launched from the Sohae-ri launch facility, according to an immediate report from the South Korean government.
The Japanese government said it flew over the Okinawan islands at around 10:01am and a rocket stage fell into the Pacific Ocean off the Philippines a few minutes later.
If right, it appears the rocket followed its planned flight path quite closely. The rocket’s second stage was due to splash down just east of the Philippines.
Here’s a timeline, according to the reports:
09:49 Launch from Sohae-ri launch facility 09:58 Part of rocket splashes down 200kms off the west coast of South Korea (this roughly matches the first-stage splashdown zone announced by North Korea) 09:59 Second part of rocket splashes down 300kms off the south west of South Korea (matching fairing splash down) 10:01 Overflies Okinawan islands 10:05 Part of rocket splashes down 300kms east of the Philippines (this roughly matches the announced second-stage splash-down area)
Here’s what North Korea originally said it planned. It matches pretty well with what’s been reported, which makes it much more of a success than the previous launch.
The launch came as a surprise to many — probably most — North Korea watchers.
The DPRK had originally said it planned to launch the rocket between December 10th and 22nd and then extended the launch window until December 29. The reason for the extension, announced just two days ago on December 10th, was a “technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module.”
South Korean media had reported the rocket had been emptied of fuel and was being taken off the launch pad. In satellite image analysis published on this site and 38North just an hour before the launch, Nick Hansen said the rocket still appeared to be on the launch pad but that an immediate launch was unlikely.
North Korean Media Report Launch Success
North Korean state media reported the launch in an unscheduled news bulletin at 11:20am.
Japan Condemns Launch
Here are the details the Japanese government shared in a news conference:
At approximately 09:49 today, it appears that North Korea launched a missile, which it calls a “satellite”, as North Korea announced on the 1st of this month.
It is estimated that the missile, which North Korea calls a “satellite”, passed over Okinawa of Japan at approximately 10:01. Information we obtained has been immediately disseminated to our people, local public authorities and media organizations through Em-Net and J-Alert systems and other means. It is also estimated that the first rocket fell to approximately 200 kilometers west of the Korean Peninsula in the Yellow Sea, the second one to approximately 300 kilometers south-west in the East China sea and the third one to approximately 300 kilometers east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. – Japanese Government spokesman
The Japanese government, predictably, wasn’t happy with the launch:
The Government has strongly urged North Korea to exercise restraint and refrain from conducting the launch in recognition that this launch would undermine the peace and stability of the region including Japan, and violate the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions as well as the Presidential Statement of the Security Council issued after the launch of a missile in April this year. Despite such efforts, it is extremely regrettable that North Korea forced to conduct the launch. The launch is intolerable to Japan, and the Government lodges a strong protest to North Korea. – Japanese Government spokesman
A NorthKoreaTech/38 North exclusive, with contributions by Nick Hansen and Michelle Kae
New GeoEye satellite imagery from December 10 shows activity at North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) related to the removal of the Unha rocket from the launch pad, a process that is probably still underway and will not be completed before December 12-13 at the earliest. (NorthKoreaTech/38 North believes South Korean press reports that the entire rocket had been removed to the assembly building for repairs as of December 11 were wrong.)
This conclusion is based on a number of considerations. First, imagery taken on December 8 and 10 shows no tracks in the snow on the road between the missile assembly building and the launch pad that would be used by trailers carrying the missile stages. Second, there is no evidence to suggest that the process of moving the stages from the pad to the building had begun before December 10 when the first signs appear, suggesting new activity. If that is the case, given past North Korean practice, the process of moving the stages to the assembly building likely cannot be completed before December 12-13.
A key question is how long it might take for the North Koreans to repair the rocket, move it back to the pad and conduct the test. That effort could take approximately 9-10 days based on what is known about the first stage rocket technology as well as past North Korean behavior. Given that timeline, a launch might take place as early as December 21-22, with added flexibility possible since Pyongyang has extended its launch window until December 29.
Weather will continue to be an important consideration. Long-range forecasts, while uncertain, indicate temperatures at the launch site — minus 10 degrees centigrade or below — beginning December 21 that could not only adversely affect the rocket itself, but also cause problems for fueling. (Neither the fuel storage buildings or fuel pipes at the Sohae facility appear to be heated.)
Rocket Removed from Pad?
Reports in the South Korean press on December 11 stating that North Korea had moved all three stages of the Unha rocket off the launch pad into a nearby assembly building are inaccurate. While fixing problems with the first stage control engine mechanism will likely require taking down the rocket and either repairing or replacing the first stage, our analysis indicates that process is moving at a slower pace than what has been reported. Prior to North Korea’s announcement of technical problems on the 10th, imagery from December 7 and 8 shows that the Unha rocket was likely stacked at the gantry although the covered work platforms make it impossible to say for sure. However, recent satellite imagery from December 10 shows new activity probably related to the removal of the rocket from the launch pad.
In the December 8 imagery, there was a low level of activity, perhaps indicating a lull before moving forward with final launch preparations. The crane on top of the gantry remained stationary in the same spot both days, only a few small vehicles are present and the North Koreans had begun to clear snow from the launch pad (See figure 1). The road to the assembly building was cleared only part of the way, indicating that they believed it would not be used for heavy vehicles.
Figure 1. Light activity at the Sohae launch pad on December 8.
On December 10, there is new activity probably related to the removal of the rocket from the pad (see figure 2). The crane has moved its position from previous photos and is now on a southern angle along the axis of the pad with work platforms still surrounding the rocket. This indicates that work has been ongoing or is about to begin. Also, small security vehicles are parked in the snow-covered area of the pad. Four of these vehicles had been seen at the pad previously for the stacking of the stages on December 4. Their presence may be related to the December 10 announcement that the launch had been postponed and in preparation for removing the stages.
Figure 2. Preparations to remove stages from the pad seem to be underway on December 10.
While work may be ongoing or about to begin on December 10, there are no signs that the trailers required to carry the rocket stages have transported them from the pad to the missile assembly building where repairs would be conducted (see figure 3). Imagery taken on December 8 and 10 show no tracks in the snow on the road between the assembly building and the launch pad that would be used by these trailers. Since imagery taken before the 10th suggested that the process of taking down the stages had not yet begun and moving the stages from the pad to the assembly building would take 2-3 days based on past North Korean practices, we believe that process will not be complete before December 12-13 at the earliest.
Figure 3. Trailers to transport the first and second stages are missing, likely inside the assembly building.
Other Preparations Complete
Pyongyang appears to have completed other preparations for a launch by December 8 according to the imagery. A new development is the presence of two temporary probable instrumentation buildings in the cleared area below the launch pad on the north side near the flame trench (see figure 4). These buildings could house optical instruments used to measure the performance of the first stage’s cluster of four engines that may have been one cause of the failed April launch.
Figure 4. New probable instrumentation buildings near launch pad.
As of December 8, the Sohae instrumentation site appeared fully operational with a tracking radar, two telemetry antennas and a probable optical instrument (see figure 5). The road to the site has been plowed and on the 8th, a bus was parked near the beginning of the road indicating technicians were on site.
Figure 5. Instrumentation site appears fully operational.
The observation building where cameras are mounted to watch the launch appears operational as well, with vehicle tracks on the road up to the site. The snow had melted partially on the roof of the building indicating it may be heated (see figure 6).
Figure 6. Observation building appears operational.
At the “VIP hotels,” the snow has been cleared in the parking areas and has melted off the roofs of both buildings, indicating they are heated (see figure 7). Also, the road to these hotels from the rocket assembly building has been cleared down to the concrete, strongly indicating that some VIPs or foreign guests are either already at Sohae or are expected to arrive.
Figure 7. VIP hotels seem to be heated, with access roads cleared.
While the dark paved area surrounding the launch control building has been cleared of snow and the gate is open as of December 8, the snow has not yet melted off the roof and no vehicles are present inside the fence line (see figure 8).
Figure 8. The control building gate has opened.
While we cannot be certain, one possibility is that low temperatures at the Sohae test site over the past week have caused the delay in Pyongyang’s planned long-range rocket launch. The problem with the first-stage control engine module cited by the North may have been the result of temperatures at minus 10 degrees centigrade or below that could adversely affect lubricants on the moving rocket components, the consistency of fuel mixtures, or cause the contraction of metals. This is especially the case if a rocket, such as this one, is not designed to compensate for these problems.
If the earliest possible date for the rocket to be fully removed from the pad is as we believe December 12-13, repairs or replacement and restacking the rocket on the pad will take at least a week. Pyongyang will then resume its launch preparations and that could still take another 2-3 days to finish, given past practice. Therefore, the Unha rocket may not be ready for launch again until December 21-22 at the earliest.
Weather conditions, particularly low temperatures, will continue to be a challenging factor in the run-up to the launch, although the North’s extension of the announced window will continue to give its technicians some flexibility. While forecasting weather over the next 15 days presents problems, it appears that temperatures at the launch site will be problematic beginning December 21. (See Table 1 for weather/temperature forecast.) In addition to adversely affecting rocket performance, low temperatures can also create problems in fueling the rocket, particularly since there is no evidence to suggest that the fuel storage building or pipes leading to the pad at Sohae are heated or that the pipes are insulated.
 A light snow fell in the early morning hours of December 3 and a heavier snowfall took place between the afternoons of December 4 and 6. No new snow fell between December 7 and 10.
A week after North Korea signaled the world that it planned to attempt a second rocket launch this year, the country has signaled it may delay that launch.
The news came in a statement from the Korean Committee of Space Technology that was carried on Sunday by the state-run Korea Central News Agency,
As announced, we are making preparations for the launch of the second version of Kwangmyongsong-3, a scientific and technological satellite, at the final stage.
Our scientists and technicians, however, are now seriously examining the issue of readjusting the launching time of the satellite for some reasons. — KCNA, December 9, 2012.
While no reason for the potential delay was given, one possibility is a turn in the weather around the Sohae launch facility in the north of the country.
Satellite imagery from recent days shows snow has begun falling in the region — something that brings additional problems and concerns for rocket engineers in any country.
State media has yet to inform the domestic audience that a rocket launch is planned, although rumors have likely spread across the country from foreign media reports.
North Korean TV ran a special news broadcast informing the country that the launch of the Kwangmyongsong 3 had failed to reach.
The broadcast came several hours after the launch. which passed by when national TV was still yet to begin programming. When it did begin daily broadcasts, the TV station opened as usual and went into regular programming.
The special bulletin came several hours later, long after the rest of the world has discovered what happened to the rocket.
According to U.S. media reports attributed to government sources, the rocket exploded about 90 seconds after its launch from the Sohae launch facility.
The news reader read out the KCNA bulletin, an English version of which is below.
Pyongyang, April 13 (KCNA) — The DPRK launched its first application satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province at 07:38:55 a.m. on Friday. The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure.
Based on information submitted by the DPRK to international organizations prior to launch, the folks at Analytical Graphics have produced a good-looking computer simulation of what the Unha-3 launch might look like.
The simulation lacks of the most recent theories on the precise launch path, such as a slight dog-leg turn in the trajectory of the satellite when the third stage separates, but that’s not too important.
Take a look and you’ll have a good feel for the path of the rocket and how the first and second stages will drop into the ocean.
A lucky close-up of a computer screen in TV pictures from the Sohae launch facility is providing further clues as to the true launch trajectory of North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket launch.
[This story has been updated, see below]
The shot, included in pictures broadcast by Russia Today (see below), appears to show the satellite’s orbital path on a computer screen. It begins at the top of the image (click for a better view) and sweeps down across North Korea traveling southwards until it skirts the western coast of Mindanao and travels onwards to cross Australia’s eastern tip.
When putting a satellite into solar-synchronous orbit, the launch path needs to be inclined at 97.4 degrees, but North Korea’s notifications to international organization implied a launch path inclination of 88.7 degrees. That’s some way off the path the rocket needs to be taking.
Based on the TV image, Molczan revised his prediction to 94.5 degree inclination.
The orbit is not sun-synchronous, but better than the 88.7 deg orbit implied by the NOTAMs, for the stated purpose of the satellite. — Ted Molczan on SeeSat-L, April 11, 2012.
The trajectories are working on the assumption that the third stage of the rocket will shift its trajectory to put it on a new path.
And there’s a possibility the launch track could be right on target for a solar-synchronous orbit:
To be precisely sun-synch, a 500 km orbit must be inclined 97.4 deg. The apparent nearly 3 deg deficit may be an indication of the performance limitation of the launcher. I do not exclude the possibility that the displayed track was faked to mislead the news media, but it should not have been more difficult to produce a high-fidelity fake, assuming the work was done by the trajectory specialists. Considering the relative position of the numerals 4 and 7 on a keypad, a simple, honest typo also cannot be excluded. — Ted Molczan on SeeSat-L, April 11, 2012.
So, could a typo be throwing us off? And, if so, let’s hope it doesn’t make it into the actual launch systems.
Building on the typo hypothesis, if the ground track displayed in the launch control centre resulted from a set of orbital elements with a typo affecting a single digit of the inclination, such that 97.45 was entered as 94.45, then the true orbit can be recovered from the TLE I estimated from the track, simply by correcting the typo. Here is the TLE with the supposed typo: — Ted Molczan on SeeSat-L, April 11, 2012.
Here are the two images he’s referring to. Click to get a better view.
Update: Satellite watchers now believe they misinterpreted the TV images and, in fact, the launch track looks good for a solar synchronous orbit: