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North Korea's Satellite Is Out of Control 450

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 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...

  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:41PM (#42268275)

    what do you think the OTV-3 is doing up there? taking photos on film and bringing them back?

    No it is testing new ion engines that actually allow for decent orbital delta V.

    actually I don't know but I could see the air force doing actual in space engine design and testing on the thing.

  • 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 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 mug funky ( 910186 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:17PM (#42268961)

    someone modded this up?

    they went to the moon for the whales. everybody knows that.

  • 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.

  • 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. [] 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.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.