North Korea Satellite Out Of Control: Why This Is Very Bad News

After failing miserably on numerous occasions, North Korea has finally put a satellite in orbit. But according to US officials, it is now "tumbling out of control". This is really bad news.

NORAD detected the launch yesterday at 7.49pm Eastern Time (11.49am AEDT). The rocket passed over Japan on its way to orbit. Its first stage splashed down into the Yellow Sea, while the second one fell on the Philippine Sea. Soon after that, the United States and most countries with space tracking capabilities confirmed the launch success: whatever it was carrying, it reached orbit. According to Kim Jong-Un's regime, it's a "weather satellite" on a polar orbit, going in the same direction as an Earth meridian.

Except it's really going anywhere: talking to NBC News, US Officials are saying that the "space object" is tumbling out of control.

Why it is bad news for everyone

The most obvious bad news is that this is quite dangerous, as this object has now become a collision risk to other satellites.

The first collision between two satellites happened in 2009, when an American 560kg Iridium communications satellite launched in 1997 collided with a dead one-ton Russian satellite launched in 1993. At the time, NASA blamed the Russians.

The collision wasn't only bad for the functioning Iridium, but also to everyone else. Space is a big place, but it's full of junk. And like that accident proved, collisions happen.

We can track quite small debris, but space crashes generate particles that may not be tracked. The thousands of objects that may result from such an accident put other satellites, spaceships and the life of astronauts at risk.

The other bad news is that, while nobody really knows if this is a satellite or not, all countries are assuming it has been an attempt to disguise the test of a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. One that can easily reach the United States or Russia. And it worked.

The only bit of good news is that the lack of precision that probably led to a spinning satellite is proof of North Koreans' ineptitude when it comes to design and control these long-range weapons. Putting an ICBM in space is not all you need to, say, drop a couple of nuclear warheads over Los Angeles. You need precision guiding systems for that, something that Kim Jong-un's boffins don't seem to have mastered quite yet.

But then again, a nuclear warhead falling anywhere will definitely be very bad news anyway, no matter how precise it is. You can track the satellite real-time right here.



    US official say the rocket is tumbling out of control without stating how they know this whilst confirming that they have no idea what it is.


      I am quite confident NORAD can track the object, they track all the other junk up there and have been watching this one from the start. As to knowing what it is, is of course another matter. It could be a secret attack monkey or just a lump of pure green.

        Nothing gets past NORAD except commercial air liners.

        Last edited 13/12/12 9:33 pm

          But you forget they had a training exercise hat covered the whole country they were supposedly protecting

          at least we are safe in australia since north korea wont attack us, so we wont see a red dawn, but may be a different story with japan, come tommorrow when the war [begins]

      Whats wrong with that? they can tell that it is spinning from radar signals that give indications of changing shape and size which unless its a liquid means that it is rotating on its axis. While they can take a radar image of it, that doesn't tell them what it is. For that they will need to take a phot of it with a telescope.

      Firstly, it could be a cardboard box with solar panels attached, or even just a cardboard box..
      How much do you actually expect them to be able to determine about a satellite even if they had a high resolution image to study?

      Secondly, you don't believe the US has the capability to track an object in space?

      I'm not much of a fan of the derogatory tone of these articles, but realistically, I don't have a problem believing that the US cannot properly identify the payload of this launch, nor do I have problems believing that they can track reasonably large objects in orbit.
      Radar could do this pretty easily for starters!

      We've taken images of the Universe in it's infancy, and you think we can't track a 'satellite' in our own backyard?

        How do you get from tracking something to coming to the conclusion that it's out of control without knowing what it's path is supposed to be?

          NORAD vs internet forum commenter... shit I guess NORAD are wrong then

            Sorta seems like the whole "US government saying Iraq has WMD's" and a bunch of online commenters saying it's scare mongering and bs.

            Yeh I don't think you can use that argument anymore.

              Sorta like the millions of internet commentators who have been wrong.

              Logic fail.

              Yeah you are completely correct Matt. There is no way at all the US can track a satellite let alone shoot it down with an SM-3 missile, is there?


          I would imagine they are inferring it's out of control because it's no longer in polar orbit... you know... like the Koreans said it was supposed to be...

            Sssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh you're using logic... stop that! NOW!

    It's the US proliferating their usual anti-any-one-who-doesn't-agree-with-us propaganda. Next they're gonna try and convince us the WTT's were blown up by terrorists.

      i agreed with what you said until you go to the WTC part

    The Mayans were right!

      yeeep... who would of though that NK will be it :))))))))))

    The NK bashing continues I see.
    Strange how differently you treated the NASA Morpheus failure :
    Most of the article is interesting - just try to tone down the sensational conjecture and derogatory language.

      theres a big difference between the NK rocket program & NASA.

      When NASA has a rocket explode, they upload the footage to their website & release a statement saying 'as you can see, that didnt work.'

      North Korea has a rocket crash into the ocean 36 seconds after taking off & they spam all news outlets proclaiming it a massive success.

      thats the bit I think is funny. also a bit scary coz nobody knows what they have actually launched...

        Sure - but why no "boffins didn't get that right" or "NASA can drop a Nuke anywhere" talk?
        The only thing worse than the propoganda delivered to the NK populace is that of the media from the outside world. We can see the full picture yet choose to vilify the entire race, not just the regime.

          well, as for the first bit, I think people are more inclided to take the piss out of NK because they dress up their failures as successes, whereas NASA admit it, & get on with it. I mean, its pretty complex stuff that can go wrong in 1000's of ways, so when it does, NASA is at least trasparent with their story.

          As for NASA nuking anywhere.... I'm sure they could. I mean, they've got the technology to do it, and have had it for years. the main difference I think is that NK might actually do it if they had the means.
          Also, I think there is an international law / or agreement that bans orbiting nuclear weapons, which NASA would probably adhere to, while NK might not.

            I take your point there.
            But that is the difference between Space Agency and Military isn't it. In a military regime, the distinction is not made.
            In history - within the lifetime of my grandparents, the USA made a decision to deploy nuclear arms against a civilian population to end the oppression of war.
            Ever since, non-allied development of similar technology (even for power) has been met with oppressive sanctions.
            If the world keeps teasing the underpriviledged child of NK, should we be surprised if one time they turn around and punch us fair in the scrote?
            So what's my point?
            Sure - point out the failings of the programme.
            Sure - outline the capabilities of the technology.
            But to paint this technological leap as a failure and proof of the stupidity of a whole race of people has no place here.

              "But to paint this technological leap as a failure and proof of the stupidity of a whole race of people has no place here."

              Race? When did race get mentioned? I would have thought North and South Koreans are of the same race, yet no body is knocking South Korea on here. Maybe its the system of government that people are mocking?

    Latest is that apparently it IS orbiting just fine.

    Sources say that on the radar, it appears to be in the shape of a Big Boy.

      5000 internets are in the mail to you now sir. Enjoy them.

    Every time I read something like this, I'm reminded of the launch scene from Wall-E

    I guess it's like seeing a guy in a ski mask wobbling around in a bicycle going against traffic. Not quite sure what he's up to, but it sure doesn't look safe! :-P

    I'm not sure they would need to be THAT precise if they wanted to hit someone with a nuke.

    If it drops out of the sky and crashes into a U.S. building does that mean America will invade Iceland ?

    As a veteran of Kerbal Space Program, I can confirm getting a stable orbit is a tricky one. Maybe someone should get a mechjeb to pyongyang?

    "North Koreansā€™ ineptitude"

    A slightly less racist way of saying it would be "North Korea's ineptitude".

    The second one implies the government and its departments are inept. The original implies North Korean human beings are inept.

    Even if N. Korea does attack the U.S with a ICBM (which they would shoot down somehow I'm sure), the U.S could/would destroy their country within the hour. I don't see what all the fuss is about, N. Korea is smart enough to not do something like that.

      Well, N.Korea has China's support so it makes everything a bit more difficult.

    Come on people stop arguing - this is not rocket science!

    I bet NK wouldn't even know if NASA took it... NASA should take it...

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