Is North Korea’s Controversial Satellite Orbiting ‘Out of Control’?

North Korea confirmed it had launched a long-range rocket and succeeded in its mission of placing a satellite into orbit. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS)

North Korea’s successful launch of a satellite into space this week after several failures, including one in April, might have seen cheers in Pyongyang, but it was met with trepidation nearly everywhere else. That said, reports of just how successful the satellite launch was seem to be conflicting.

Shortly after the launch, reports began circulating that the satellite, which was rocked up to space despite international warnings, was “wobbling out of control,” as Gizmodo stated based on its view of real-time tracking.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday though that the satellite was orbiting normally at a speed of 7.6 kilometers (4.7 miles) per second. The mission of the satellite is unknown. North Korean space officials say the satellite called “Lode Star” would be used to study crops and weather patterns.

This picture received from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows an orbit image of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, being monitored on a large screen at a satellite control center in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province in North Korea. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS)

Many still question the motives of the country though, especially as it has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, which defied demands that it give up its nuclear weapons program.

“This launch is about a weapons program, not peaceful use of space,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to the Associated Press. Even the North’s most important ally, China, expressed regret.

Wednesday’s launch suggests the North is moving forward with its stages to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, said former U.S. defense official James Schoff, now an expert on East Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But he and others say there are still tough technical barriers that would need to be overcome to build such a threat, namely a sophisticated nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile.


So just how worried should people be about the launch? Popular Science reported Nick Hansen with Center for International Security and Cooperation and expert on foreign weapons systems putting it this way: “Colleges launch satellites now that are much more advanced.”

Popular Science also stated that although the country has built a rocket that can reach space, its knowledge of rocket technology and construction is still not as advanced as that of the U.S. during the space race.

“My opinion is that the threat is overblown, but it does relate to a threat that they’re trying to make us perceive that they have,” Hansen told Popular Science. “[The rocket] is 100 feet tall. It’s liquid-fueled so you can’t keep it fueled for very long. There’s only two places in the country they can launch from, one in the east, one in the west. Is this a viable weapons program? I don’t think so.”

Hansen also pointed out that North Korea hasn’t demonstrated a re-entry vehicle. Pyongyang is also lacking a credible long-range missile with a guidance system.

In case you need one more photo of what North Korea’s rocket launch might have looked like, check out another take posted on TheBlaze blog here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.