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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid