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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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  • 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 = ...

  • 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.

  • 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 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 Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @09:15PM (#42267995)

    Not sure if there would be time to deploy the military shuttle thing...

    By amazing coincidence, they just launched the "military shuttle thing" - []

  • 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" ( - 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

  • 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 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 jrumney ( 197329 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:08PM (#42268905)

    it's not a matter of bombing the party HQ, and driving into Pyong Jang, the invaders would not be accepted, and the people would gladly give their lives.

    This is basically what was expected in Japan after WW2 based on what was happening in the final weeks of the war. In reality, it was one of the most peaceful occupations the world has ever seen. I don't think you can predict that easily how an oppressed and starving population will react to occupation.

  • 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 Nimey ( 114278 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @11:28PM (#42269011) Homepage Journal

    The UN in general /can/ agree on Syria, it's just that Russia and China have their vetoes on the Security Council and used them to protect the Assad regime. Why? My theory is geopolitics: Russia is trying to keep a friendly government near its southwestern flank and head off US/NATO gains in the region, and possibly they're trying to keep Islamists off said flank lest the plague spread into their territory.

    China's just wanting to cock-block us so we don't get too powerful, and maybe they've got some lucrative trade going on, or would like to.

  • 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.

  • 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').

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan