News / Asia

    North Korean Satellite May Be Malfunctioning

    North Korean rocket launch Dec. 12, 2012 (North Korean news agency photo)
    North Korean rocket launch Dec. 12, 2012 (North Korean news agency photo)
    Independent astronomers say North Korea's newly launched satellite may be malfunctioning, tumbling end over end instead of pointing consistently at the Earth. It also is allegedly failing to emit expected ultra high-frequency radio broadcasts.

    Dr. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told VOA Monday that optical observers from around the world have been using orbital data to predict the satellite's movements. They also have been measuring its brightness.

    He said multiple reports, notably one from retired South African astronomer Greg Roberts, indicate the satellite is alternately getting brighter and fainter in 16-second intervals, which suggests to McDowell and other scientists that the satellite is tumbling in orbit.

    "The box is tumbling end over end, so when it catches the sunlight it gets brighter, when it's facing the other way it gets fainter, McDowell said. That leads us further to conclude the satellite isn't working right. It's designed so that it should always point toward the Earth so it can use its little webcam to take pictures of the Earth," he said.

    McDowell said another troubling sign - the absence of ultra high-frequency radio broadcasts North Korea said would be emitted from the satellite - was flagged by Bob Christy with the Kettering Group of amateur satellite observers in the United Kingdom.

    "People have been looking for the claimed patriotic songs that the satellite is meant to be broadcasting over radio, and no one has been able to pick those up. So we think that part isn't working either," McDowell said.

    The United States Strategic Command, which tracks and identifies all man-made objects in Earth's orbit, referred all inquiries about the reports to the U.S. Defense Department, which declined to comment.

    The South Korean defense ministry said it typically takes about two weeks to determine whether a satellite works successfully after liftoff, citing data from the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

    The North Koreans launched the satellite toward a sun-synchronous orbit over the North and South poles, which is consistent with orbiters that would image the Earth. According to McDowell, that is a tip-off that Pyongyang's ultimate goal is to develop a spy satellite, which he said would require a somewhat larger rocket.

    "The path they've chosen to put the satellite in suggests that they're interested in it as a pathfinder for a future, bigger [orbiter] that might be observing the Earth. The obvious reason the North Koreans would want to observe the Earth is to have an independent spy satellite capability," said McDowell.

    North Korea called last week's launch "groundbreaking" and "peaceful" with the aim of placing a weather satellite into orbit. It was carried out despite warnings from the United Nations and the United States. The event is being viewed by most of the world as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and the United Nations immediately condemned the launch.

    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

    You May Like

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    December 18, 2012 9:06 AM
    There is probably a monkey at the controls. My guess this was a missle/rocket test more than anything.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora