The Naro-Unha Space Race

14 Nov

The end of 2012 and the start of 2013 look set to go with a bang. Both North and South Korea are trying to beat one another into orbit with rockets that have yet to prove their value. Some westerners are deliriously misguided about the commercial and professional prospects of a peninsular space race.

The astronomer’s conclusion was that North Korea “punches below its weight in a lot of things, but when it comes to their space program and high-powered computing, they are channeling in a lot of energy and resources.” But of course, North Korea’s strong investment in space exploration and high powered computing has come at a high cost, and many criticize Pyongyang for focusing so much of its scant resources into an area that has so few benefits for the general population.

Outside of the classroom Mr Hearnshaw claims he was treated “like a celebrity rock star or visiting president, with a large black limousine and chauffeur assigned to me for a week,” on the self-funded trip. He also brought several large shipments of science books and journals into the country, which national carrier Air Koryo flew in for free.

North Korea has been busy with what little it’s got. According to 38 North in any excellent analysis of satellite imagery, Pyongyang has conducted tests needed to launch Unha-3s or KN-08 missiles.

Despite its failed rocket test last spring, commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles, possibly with intercontinental ranges. Since the failed launch, the North has conducted at least two, and possibly more, tests of large rocket motors at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the most recent in mid-September 2012. These tests, critical for the development of new rockets, appear to have been of liquid-fueled, first stage engines for either the Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle or the new KN-08 long-range missile first viewed in a parade in Pyongyang last April.

In addition, commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae rocket launch area indicates construction activity on the upper gantry platform required for future launches of long-range rockets much larger than either the Unha-3 or the KN-08. 38 North previously reported indications, from open media and from construction activity at its launch facilities, that the North is developing such a rocket.

In the aftermath of the US and South Korean presidential elections, Pyongyang may embark on a new round of activities in the first half of 2013, including rocket and nuclear tests that will contribute to further development of its nuclear deterrent. Whether the testing of large rocket motors or construction at the launch pad are in preparation for such activities remains unclear at this point.

South Korea’s Korean Space launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), or Naro-1, has failed three times. The last failure on October 26 was caused by a faulty link port, and now Seoul has had to acquire a replacement part from its Russian manufacturer. November 24 is quoted as a possible launch date.

And, just to add to the excitement, consider: “It’s worth noting that many of these new actors on the space stage didn’t sign the treaty that kept the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in check during the Cold War, at least in terms of the overt militarization of space.”


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