VIENNA, 7 February 2016: DPRK announced a space launch vehicle (SLV) launch on Sunday morning, 7 February 2016, to place a satellite into Earth orbit.
Until more information is provided by the DPRK on the SLV launched today, one can only speculate on the type and characteristics of the SLV and the satellite
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Until now, the most advanced SLV flight-tested by the DPRK has been the “Unha-3” (Galaxy). Reportedly, the Unha-3 has three load-bearing stages carried aloft by a cluster of 4 rocket engines, estimated payload capacity is in the range of 500-600 kg, estimated flight range could be up to 10,000 km.
Reportedly, the DPRK is developing a more capable SLV, the Unha-9 – it is possible that the Unha-9 was the SLV used today?
The Unha-3 clearly is a SLV and not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
An ICBM requires a short burn-time of the rocket engines in order to minimize gravitational losses and the risk of early interception in boost-phase by anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. The typical ICBM rocket motor burn time between is about 180-320 seconds.
The Unha-3 boost-phase is estimated to be between 550-570 seconds – for ICBM purposes, this longer rocket motor burn time would necessitate a significantly delayed release of the payload (warhead, decoys, counter-measures) thus would increase its vulnerability to ABM systems.
Conversion of ballistic missile technology to SLVs is not new: in 1961, the NASA reference manual on its then-current launch vehicles listed all but two of its 12 models based on the Atlas, Titan and Thor missiles
On 12 December 2012, the Unha-3 successfully deployed a Kwangmyongsong-3 (Bright Star) satellite into Earth orbit
. The DPRK claimed that the mission of the satellite was observation of the Earth – including weather, agricultural and environmental information.
Reportedly, the DPRK is developing more capable satellite prototypes and the launch today likely was Kwangmyongsong-4?
DPRK’s developmental actions for SLVs and satellites are not different from those of other States that have developed and deployed SLVs and satellites – i.e., sequential development of more capable machines.
DPRK has a number of ballistic missile systems: short-range ballistic missiles, Nodong medium-range ballistic missiles, Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles IRBMs, Taepodong-2 and KN-08 regional/intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, and KN-11 sea-launched ballistic missile…
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Tariq Rauf is Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and a director of Atomic Reporters. Contact: +46 76 026 1213. Opinions expressed are his.