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 Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid