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North Korea's Satellite Is Out of Control 450

Posted by samzenpus
from the wobble-and-bobble dept.
Koreantoast writes "After failing 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 bad news, and more bad news, covered in a double layer of extra bad news. From the article: 'According to US officials, it appears that North Korea's new satellite has failed to achieve a stable orbit and is now "tumbling out of control." The greatest danger is the threat of it colliding with another satellite, adding to the growing debris field around the earth.' A separate Gizmodo article provides links for tracking the current location of the satellite."
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North Korea's Satellite Is Out of Control

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  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:40PM (#42267573)
    Its unclear if the new min-shuttle has offensive capabilities.
    • by ThatsMyNick (2004126) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:43PM (#42267605)

      I hear it has the capability to capture satellites. This should a good time to test it and make it public.

      • On a satellite with no attitude control, seriously?

        • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:10PM (#42267941)
          The manic depressive ones are the most important to get under control.
        • small rocket + net + parachute. Navy waiting underneath. Hell, put a GPS transmitter and flotation in the package and you could pretty much bring anything out of orbit you wanted to as long as it didn't have its own propulsion.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:53PM (#42268389)

          you're assuming the purpose has always been to launch a satellite. if they were using this as a means of demonstrating their missile delivery capabilities, they view this as a great success.

          • by X0563511 (793323) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:17PM (#42268559) Homepage Journal

            On the flip side, if you can't get a satellite to not die on the way up, what makes you think the nuke's systems will survive?

            • by Gertlex (722812) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:02AM (#42269443)

              I'm not sure any one has achieved survival of a nuke when using it... /pedantic misreading

            • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:02AM (#42270637) Journal

              Exactly a nuke isn't gonna be worth much if you can't even hit within 20 miles of your target, especially since what i read on their nuke tests had the thing about a little over half the Hiroshima bomb. So with a nuke that weak (as far as nukes go) you are not only gonna have to have a delivery system accurate enough to get within a couple of miles of the target but you're also gonna have to be able to get it to burst at just the right height for maximum damage.

              But from the looks of things what we have here is similar to what a lot of third world dictatorships have tried to do, and that is take the old Scud designs and just make it bigger with more stages. Problem is the Scud was basically a rocket artillery system, it just wasn't ever designed for long range accuracy because that is what the Soviets had the ICBMs for, but of course they didn't export their ICBMs (that I know of, could be wrong) so all these different countries, Iraq, Iran, NK, built around the Scud because that is what they could get their hands on.

              So I really think this is a combo of weenie waving and insurance, weenie waving so they don't look as weak as they actually are and insurance to keep someone like the UN, China, or the USA from deciding that regime change is in order. All that will end up coming of this is they'll end up getting some more aid to prop them up awhile longer and when that runs out you'll have another weenie waving event to remind the world they are still there and to get another aid check.

              But we have yet to see them have a 100% successful test of their rockets and from what we have seen these things couldn't hit a barn the size of Kansas, much less target the USA with the thing. Hell I'd be more worried about the damned thing blowing up over NK and having radiation spread all over the Korean peninsula than I would be them actually being able to target a US city, they just don't seem to have the expertise.

              • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                Exactly a nuke isn't gonna be worth much if you can't even hit within 20 miles of your target, especially since what i read on their nuke tests had the thing about a little over half the Hiroshima bomb.

                In a tactical sense that's true, but even with poor accuracy you wouldn't want one headed towards your country. The purpose of having ICBMs is not to use them, it is to deter the other guy from using them. Having lots is more important than having accuracy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Then we can take it to our secret volcano fortress where everyone wears jumpsuits. We just need to ninja and British agent proof it.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      But the old shuttles most certainly do. Assuming they can get one out of the museum and battle-ready in time, they could go up and capture it.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        if by 'in time' you mean 5-8 years? then no.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        I doubt they can. It's not hard to capture a drifting object, but if it's actually "out of control" (fired a thruster until it obtained an energetic spin), then they'd have more work to do than just send up a shuttle with grappling arm.
        • by Guspaz (556486) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:14PM (#42267983)

          Assuming it's tumbling out of control, it has a predictable orbit and safe distance. Could they not maneuver the X-37B close to it with the main engine pointed towards the satellite (oriented in the direction opposite of the orbit), and fire the thruster, slowing down the satellite and hastening re-entry?

          This is assuming the primary concern is that it shouldn't hit anything before re-entering, not the re-entry itself. After all, a random re-entry has incredibly low chances of doing any damage, while an in-orbit collision is pretty disastrous in terms of debris.

          I would imagine that the X-37B would have to consume a great deal of fuel just to reach and match orbits with the satellite, if it were even possible.

          • by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:13PM (#42268937) Homepage

            Then again, if you were an out of control insane nation run by psychopaths and wanted to test an anti-satellite satellite against a real target, you would want to make sure it appeared like it was out of control too. Then it's all whoops, tee hee and pay me much money not to launch another one.

            • by jonadab (583620) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:57AM (#42270615) Homepage Journal
              This is North Korea we're talking about. The level of incompetence they have displayed, repeatedly and publicly, is difficult to overstate. Quite frankly, botching their first attempt at a satellite launch (something the Soviet Union got right on their first try in 1957) is small potatoes compared to some of their other attempted shenanigans.

              Among other things, the tallest structure in the country (a would-be hotel in the capital) was started in 1987, was originally intended to be completed by mid 1989 for some locally important event or another, and at this time is still not ready for use. They're currently hoping to _partially_ open the still-incomplete building in 2013, although one wonders where they think they're going to find enough tourists to fill a hundred-story hotel, even if they do ever finish it.

              (Lonely Planet's writeup of the country is interestingly clever, particularly the way it manages to put excessive positive spin on things and yet still not make the country sound like an even remotely interesting tourist destination. The only landmark attraction they specifically mention is a mountain, which they call "one of the most stunning sights in North Korea", although they do also claim that the capital city has "a few sites worth visiting".)

              Nobody in the Dilbert comic strip has ever approached North Korea's level of incompetence.
      • by clj (153252) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:16PM (#42268023)

        Neither the "mini-shuttle" nor the retired shuttles are in a position to reach the orbit of the NK satellite. It is in a sun-synchronous orbit, which means its orbital inclination is near-polar. The current OTV-3 (mission name of the so-called mini-shuttle) is in an orbit of around 40 degrees, which makes it incapable of reaching the NK satellite's inclination, and no space shuttle ever flew in a polar orbit and nor had any plans/capability to do so after the Challenger accident.

        If I had a nickel for every time I've seen someone propose that two satellites get together in orbit when such a thing is practically impossible, I'd be hundreds of dollars richer...

    • Not sure if there would be time to deploy the military shuttle thing... especially if this satellite starts dragging on the upper atmosphere.

      The betting pool is now open as to where it'll re-enter. At 100kg or so, I'm not certain it'll survive the trip back down, but bits of it might.

    • by pezpunk (205653)

      the greatest threat is that it collides with another satellite and creates a debris field, so your solution is ... to blow it up?

      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        if the size of whatever we blow up the satellite with is less than the satellite it is likely to hit, then you would have less debris blowing it up. Also I would think the resulting debris field would be more contained. If it was from 2 high-speed large satellites they may wound each other enough to then have large obstacles aiming at more satellites...

    • by arglebargle_xiv (2212710) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:15PM (#42268547)

      Its unclear if the new min-shuttle has offensive capabilities.

      Of course it has offensive capabilities. The only country known to not arm its spacegoing vessels is Finland.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:42PM (#42267591)

    ...it can cover multiple orbital trajectories while imperialist pig Yankee capitalist satellites are only capable of a single orbit.

    • by siddesu (698447)
      On the other hand, pig yankee capitalist and pig red commie swine had more than one fiery death terror satellite wobbling in many orbits in the past before they forgot the art and became incapable of maintaining more than one orbit per satellite.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        If they only had google they would have know how it was done.

        • by siddesu (698447)
          Last time I tried to launch a satellite via Google, I got a 403 not authorized error and a 500 internal server while fetching the error page. Maybe they hit the same bug.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      ...it can cover multiple orbital trajectories while imperialist pig Yankee capitalist satellites are only capable of a single orbit.

      Our spy satellites can cover multiple orbital trajectories too, and without exploding a few weeks after launch or burning up in the atmosphere. Oh, and you might want to get that mole on your back looked at; Our intelligence analysts think it might be cancerous. Or not. We're just saying, after spending so much money on surveillance watching your every move, it'd be a shame to waste the investment. By the way, kudos on your launch. No really, we mean that -- we're really impressed you can do that when most

    • I don't understand what the problem is? Shooting satellites into space and keeping them in orbit has been a solved problem for decades.
      North Korea should be able to do this. Rocket and satellite tech isn't that secret anymore. It's only a matter of engineering and money. They surely have the engineers and they have shown they can scrape together the money at the expense of their own people.
      • IIRC there are less than 15 nations who have the capability to launch a satellite and none of them achieved it entirely on their own. Knowing how to build an ICBM is quite different to actually building one, there's a whole host of prerequisite technologies that you need, a huge problem when you're an impoverished hermit nation.
  • hmmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:43PM (#42267595)

    US launches secret space drone... NK satellite suddenly goes into an uncontrolled descent.

    1 + 1 = ...

  • How can this be? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:44PM (#42267613)

    If you're in orbit, you're in orbit. If your orbit is too low then it's a decaying orbit but "tumbling out of control" is a bit of hyperbole from the press. It might be harder to predict the re-entry if the satellite is spinning and has no attitude control; maybe that's what they mean. I suppose it's possible that it could strike that atmosphere and bounce before re-entering, but will it bounce high enough to impact something in LEO? Details please. I bet this is a tempest in a teapot; not that I condone NK's actions or think they're particularly smart.

    • by tragedy (27079) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:58PM (#42267775)

      "tumbling out of control" is a bit of hyperbole from the press

      I would have to say "the greatest danger is the threat of it colliding with another satellite, adding to the growing debris field around the earth" is another fine example of that hyperbole. I mean, it's probably technically true. The odds may be infinitesimal, but still higher than the odds of any other danger.

    • Re:How can this be? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by edjs (1043612) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:36PM (#42268209)
      The article is quoting "US officials" when describing it as tumbling. If the satellite is spinning around more than one axis, then tumbling is the appropriate description, and is strong evidence that it is not under control.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      It's bad reporting. "tumbling out of control" usually means "requires directional stability to get power from the sun, and it's tumbling too fast to get sun on the panels long enough to generate useful current." Or "physical problem with thruster applied unintended thrust, resulting in an unintended spin." But there's nothing that would have a satellite traveling in anything other than a normal orbit, which is what this article is implying. It's highly unlikely it has enough fuel to cross multiple orbit
      • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:52PM (#42268781)

        Tumbling out of control also means any directional antennae are useless. If you intend sending commands to the satellite though such an antenna then you might not be able to recover the ability to control the satellite.

        The North Korean people aren't just hungry, they are starving en-masse. And the leadership is all into putting its tiny foreign earnings into dick swinging activities like this (achieving what Russia and the US did decades ago). The DPRK really is the most criminal and totalitarian regime out there.

        • It's also doing a fantastic job of brainwashing their people. Lots of them blame the Western world for their problems. There was a NPR story years back where an embed noted that if there's a power outage, the typical reaction from people is to blame it on some anti-infrastructure American campaign. I've always said that dictators are the highest form of politician because they've got to maintain an iron grip on power with nothing as helpful as royal blood or divine right to keep the people on their sid

          • Re:How can this be? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:50AM (#42270365)
            Interesting. I heard that a Westerner who went through Pyongyang was surprised to see US flags *everywhere*. You see, the food aid extorted from the US comes in large sacks that have US flags stamped on them. When the food is used the sacks get re-purposed for lots of things, like makeshift materials (eg, awnings, window blinds etc). Hence, the North Korean certainly understand where the food is coming from. The official line might be continuous revolution and the evil West, but I doubt the West is hated more than their government (if it wasn't for ruthless armed guards the people would flee - that speaks volumes about what the people think about their 'Workers Paradise').
        • Satellite AI 1: I'm receiving a transmission, but it appears to be in Morse Code.
          Satellite AI 2: Who cares! Wheeeeee!

  • Seems like it's time for another anti-sat test.... you know, for our safety.
  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:45PM (#42267627) Homepage Journal
    It may not be flat out stupidity. Perhaps it is a matter of not having the data required to make the appropriate calculations. We know everything in orbit, gravitational tug well beyond 20 decimal places on all faces of the earth. Just a couple of those missing variables could really make physics not work how you predict
    • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:56PM (#42267759)

      Or, it was designed to be a simple parabolic missile, but NK test firing a missile is banned by the UN, so they pack in enough fuel to get to orbit, any kind of orbit, and there was never a plan to make it a stable orbit nor were there thursters on board to do so. In other words, a missile test disguised as a orbital launch.

      • by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:36PM (#42268697) Homepage
        You think North Korea cares about the UN? The UN can't agree that the Syrian government should be sanctioned. For launching a missile, the UN might decide to write a weakly worded statement that future misbehaving might incur a more strongly worded letter. Maybe. After weeks of negotiations and diplomacy.
      • by Donwulff (27374) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:35PM (#42269045)

        I liked that theory at first, but then I took a look at the orbital parameters... It seems to be almost pefect sun-synchronous orbit. Public experts where holding reaching sun-synchronous orbit out of reach impossibility for NK given the need to launch it at such an angle as not to have spent stages fall on ground where they could be construed a hostile action.

        I'm sure we'll hear more on this in the coming hours, but it looks to me like they must've spent a lot of effort and risk on reaching sun-synchronous orbit (one conductive for earth-observation, such as spy or weather-satellites which NK claimed it would be). It doesn't seem credible that they would've done that just for a ballistic missile test and dummy payload. Also something about the way most news-sources quote the "tumbling out of control" seems to give up the impression they believe it initially had attitude control, though to be honest I'm curious to hear how they would determine when it had or didn't have attitue control.

  • by demonbug (309515)

    Looks like it is headed for S. Korea in about 10 minutes - this should be fun. Of course, it might have done that already and I just missed it; the orbit track only goes back about 1 orbit (~90 min).

    • by demonbug (309515)

      On another note - anyone know of a similar tool that lets you view the orbit/track in 3D? It would be cool to watch, and would give a much simpler to understand view of the eccentricity etc.

  • The tracker just says "Connecting..."

    That can't be good.

  • If it does end up damaging another satellite, what can anyone do about it? It's not like North Korea is going to nicely exchange insurance info with the aggrieved party or pay for damages. Hell, if it's a US company I doubt they'd even be allowed to accept funds from there legally if they were amenable. I could see several scenarios in which this leads to war with North Korea, and frankly I'm not really caring who takes them out at this point. - HEX
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:00PM (#42267791)

      I could see several scenarios in which this leads to war with North Korea

      Tom Clancy... is that you?

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Depends what it hits.
      Recall the fun the US had with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_IV [wikipedia.org]
      Finding out your telco are not really a network with some redundancy, more one point of profit vs risk.
      A US weather satellite? Lets hope some smart people can list what kind of sats are near the same zone.
      The US will always fund the funding for a spy sat, no need to worry about that.
      Unique telco, science could be a real issue if anywhere in the same region????
    • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:16PM (#42268009)

      Just hold on a moment.

      Okay, look. North Korea are not the world's nicest people from what we know, either to their southern neighbour or (far more commonly) their own people. Let's just get that out of the way right now.

      But seriously. Seriously. "Takes them out"? A Korea War II would be extremely costly for the western world and over what? A satellite that, worst case, smashes into one of the US Military's satellites (say a GPS one, not one so secret they'd just go "WHAT SATELLITE, IT WAS A TRAINING EXERCISE"). Then the debris takes out a few other satellites, and the GPS network takes a hit, being down for a week or so.

      That's in my mind the absolute worst case scenario, and it would be pretty bad. We use GPS for everything; the airlines would take a hit, the road toll would go up, some smart missiles and bombs would stop working.

      And you want to fucking bomb them for this? It's clearly just an accident. Sure, criminal ineptitude possibly, but that's what sanctions are for.

      There's no reason anyone should die over this even in the absolute worst case. Stop crying for war as your country plummets over the fiscal cliff of economic crisis. And, of course, you sound so confident you can win (protip: You didn't win last time).

      Are you fucking insane? Or one of those hardcore American evangelical Christians whose line of thought goes:

      God blesses America to do whatever the fuck we want. Skirmishes? Bah, bomb those Athe-commies back to nothing. It escalates to total war? It's Christians vs Atheistic Commies! God will bless us with victory. It escalates to nuclear war? Praise God, the end times are upon us! The rapture is here!

      So I repeat my question. Are you fucking insane?

      • by Spy Handler (822350) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:56PM (#42268407) Homepage Journal

        And, of course, you sound so confident you can win (protip: You didn't win last time).

        We didn't have Chuck Norris last time.

      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:21PM (#42268581) Journal

        A satellite that, worst case, smashes into one of the US Military's satellites (say a GPS one, not one so secret they'd just go "WHAT SATELLITE, IT WAS A TRAINING EXERCISE").

        Can't smash into a GPS satellite, because they're in a much higher orbit.

      • by Clsid (564627)

        Besides, if anything, the US govt should apologize because after all they DID use the rocket to send a satellite into orbit. That kind of mission takes years of planning. Sure, North Korea is not hip or gingham, and their economy is a reflection of centralized planning, but as a whole, very few countries in the world can manage to pull stuff like this. So in my mind, those Koreans, either from the South or the North, are kick-ass. Best Warcraft and Starcraft players, extremely good capitalists in the south

      • by Donwulff (27374) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:15PM (#42268951)

        The GPS satellites have altitude well in excess of 20.000km, so for a North Korean ballistic missile launched satellite with an orbit at just around 500km to hit them would make for some big news indeed. That problem aside, you should probably know the GPS satellites are not something you go pick up at a nearby hardware store - they have a lead-time of years, decades if you count slipping them in to the budget somewhere and generally mucking around.

        While at any given time there are a few irds hold on spare, should a significant number (enough for GS network to take a hit) of them be lost due to a runaway Kessler syndrome or repeat Carrington event, it would be far longer than few weeks to recover the situation. Indeed, the big worry people are hinting at is a Kessler syndrome, where our satellites decide to play a big game of billiards at orbital velocity in the sky. Not only would in theory ALL currently orbiting satellites be lost, but the debris would prevent ANY space-launches for centuries to come.

        The ISS, by the way, is below 410km so quite far below the North Korean satellite for now, though the satellite's orbit is sure to decay in the future. Luckily ISS presents fairly small footprint for collissions, in the big scheme, but countless other satellites and debris lay below the satellite's current orbit. It's not good, but it's probably not catastrohic considering how frequently some satellite or other malfunctions. Our near orbit has grown so crowded however that satellites have for long been de-orbited or moved to safe orbits when taken out of service (Like that Russian satellite that was simply de-orbited rather than re-purposed because it might've received more than its alloted dose of radiation in the Van Allen belts and was therefore a risk).

  • by andydread (758754) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @08:55PM (#42267743)
    One has to wonder if the Air-Force's X-37B kinda gave it a nudge.
  • We can't shoot it down or destroy it without risking an international incident.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      But we could accidentally hit during a test of our anti-satellite rockets...

      "On the morning of Thursday December 13 and 4am, a test of our SM-3 missile defense system tumbled out of control right into the ballistic path of the recently launched North Korean satellite. We would like to extend out sincerest apologies to the North Korean government."
    • by epyT-R (613989) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:39PM (#42268249)

      Oh noes.. the UN might write us a letter telling us how angry they are..

  • by future assassin (639396) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:03PM (#42267815) Homepage

    they might Need Another Seven Astronauts.

  • "Rejoice, for the Supreme Leader's weaponized satellite is close to striking a blow against western oppression."
  • Problem solved.

  • best post (Score:5, Funny)

    by hurfy (735314) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:14PM (#42267989)

    from the article after someone makes a prediction of it crashing somewhere.

    One of the follow-ups: " I predict it will crash into a Mayan temple in 9 days "

    You guys have a tough bar to reach in comments this time :)

  • by pla (258480) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:16PM (#42268013) Journal
    Figures, Best Korea would launch a satellite with a bad attitude.

    Pity, Japan's having pitching a fit over NK's poor angle of attack, but y'all just need to get over it - NK clearly has no inclination to just roll over and take it!
  • I read in the thread [slashdot.org] about the launch how development of tech like the launch rocket are the only way for the Norks to keep the US from fucking with them.

    Commenter never specified whether it was through fear or from being doubled over in laughter.
  • by BeerCat (685972) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:23PM (#42268099) Homepage

    In the original space race, when the Soviets launched a satellite, it was seen in the west as a proxy for an ICBM - the (correct) theory being, that a nation firing a sub-orbital rocket was "interesting", while a nation launching an orbital craft meant they could, potentially, hit "anywhere" (subject to orbital inclination and other similar factors)

    Now that the Soviet Union has fallen, to be replaced by "friendly" (yeah, right) Russia, other nations can launch satellites with impunity (China, India etc). Most of them are, if not "friendly" to the west, are at least "not complete and utter fruitbats" (that's a technical term BTW).

    North Korea (DPRK), though, is still transitioning from the "complete and utter fruitbat" of Kim Jong-Il to Kim Jong-Un, so that, at this stage, it is hard to say whether the new Dear Leader's plans for satellites are peaceful or not.

    Assumption 1: it is peaceful, so an out of control satellite is, as USA, Russia and several others have found out, merely an expensive mistake
    Assumption 2: it is deliberately provocative, (we launch a satellite, so an ICBM is easier), so an out of control satellite is... well what, exactly?

    Let's not forget that part of DPRK's posturing is directed inwards - their recent "nuclear accident" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryanggang_explosion) - to quote wiki "No neighboring nations have claimed any detection of radioactive isotopes characteristic of a nuclear explosion.", even though their news media hinted it as such, means that even an unsuccessful satellite will still be seen as a "we are a major power" - when broadcast to those in DPRK

    So... where from here? DPRK joins the space race. That is still a concern. Does it matter that the satellite failed? Only if it was intended to be "just a satellite" If it was a "proof of concept" for an ICBM, then a wonky orbit is still an orbit

    • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:03PM (#42268861)
      Whatever it is, it's not a weather satellite. Those are put into geosynchronous or geostationary orbits (west to east with slight inclination or directly over the equator with zero inclination), so they'll have the same view of the Earth all the time. e.g. If India launches a weather satellite, they want it hanging over India 24/7 so, y'know, it'll show them pictures of the weather over India all the time. Because geosynchronous orbits are so much higher (42,000 km), they require a lot more energy than low earth orbit (150-300 km).

      The North Korean satellite is in a polar orbit (north to south). You only put stuff into those highly inclined orbits if you want to maximize coverage of the Earth's surface - typically a spy satellite, though NASA's Landsat satellites are also in highly inclined orbits. The loiter time over any one spot on Earth is short, typically with a ~24 hour gap between flyovers (the Earth rotates underneath a stable orbit). Meaning without a communications satellite network or an array of receiving stations spanning the globe, you're only in communications with the satellite for a few minutes every 24 hours. But you do get coverage of the entire globe. Unless something went wildly wrong with the launch, this orbit was intentional since the spent stages fell towards the south-southwest. Most countries' early launches are to the east since you get free energy from the Earth's rotation if you launch in that direction.
      • by Strider- (39683) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:09AM (#42269479)

        Whatever it is, it's not a weather satellite. Those are put into geosynchronous or geostationary orbits (west to east with slight inclination or directly over the equator with zero inclination), so they'll have the same view of the Earth all the time. e.g. If India launches a weather satellite, they want it hanging over India 24/7 so, y'know, it'll show them pictures of the weather over India all the time. Because geosynchronous orbits are so much higher (42,000 km), they require a lot more energy than low earth orbit (150-300 km).

        Actually, no. Much of the weather observations are done from polar orbiting satellites in low orbit. This allows them to have a much more detailed view of the earth and its weather systems then if you're geo-stationary. To put it in perspective, from geo-synchronous orbit, the earth is a sphere about 17 degrees wide. This is roughly the size of a basketball held out at arm's length. Sure you can see large scale weather patterns (Hurricanes and so forth) but it doesn't tell you about much about local conditions. This is where NOAA's POES satellites, as well as the ones from other nations are intended for. They are put into exactly the same type of sun-synchronous orbit as the NK launch.

  • by Cochonou (576531) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:25PM (#42268115) Homepage
    All right, calling the rocket launch a "weapon test" was not totally uncalled for, because we all know that space rocket technology is dual use by nature, and can result in the development of ballistic missiles.
    But this...
    The satellite is just a small spacecraft on a polar low earth orbit. It seems its attitude control system has failed, this is why it tumbles around. It's not the first example of a failed satellite on low earth orbit... and it's not because it is tumbling that its trajectory has become unpredictable. It will just decay in the atmosphere and burn before reaching the ground, as most low earth orbit satellites do at the end of their life. Controlled re-entries are rare, except for massive objects such as the Mir space station.
  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @10:40PM (#42268709)
    North Korean succeeds again, our new satellite is able to spin faster than any imperialist satellites and is expected to make a triumphant return any second now.
  • FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:23AM (#42270265) Homepage

    The satellite appears to be in a stable, nearly circular orbit. [n2yo.com] Perigee 505.3 km, apogee: 588.3 km. That's higher than the ISS. It's not going to re-enter any time soon. Good launch. Some idiot seems to have looked at a tracking site, saw that the altitude was decreasing, which happens for about half of each orbit, and made a big deal out of this.

    It's not clear that the satellite is out of control. Many satellites tumble during their early orbits, until attitude stabilization is commanded and achieved. Since North Korea doesn't have a worldwide network of tracking stations, they can only send commands when the satellite passes over their country. They may choose to let it orbit for a while and collect some telemetry data before trying to stabilize it. Assuming it's equipped for attitude stabilization. Early US and USSR satellites were not stabilized.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

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