Could North Korea’s New Satellite Have Spied On Guam So Easily?

Earlier this week, another nation joined the still relatively exclusive club of those which possess a satellite launch capability. North Korea launched their Malligyong-1 spy satellite, and though it has naturally inflamed the complex web of political and military tensions surrounding the Korean peninsula, it still represents something of a technical achievement for the isolated Communist state. The official North Korean news coverage gleefully reported with much Cold War style rhetoric, that Kim Jong-Un had visited the launch control centre the next day and viewed intelligence photographs of an American base in Guam. Could the satellite have delivered in such a short time? [SatTrackCam Leiden] has an interesting analysis.

The DPRK official news pictures include a view of the control centre itself, reminiscent of the similar facilities we’re used to from the days of the Space Race. On its giant screen is a barely visible satellite track, and matched with the time displayed on the centre clock it was possible to closely match this to the known orbit of the craft. So indeed, it had just passed within range of Guam when the photo was taken, and had it been equipped with suitable cameras it’s possible that it could have returned pictures.

At this point we enter a murky world of propaganda in which nothing is ever as it seems. Spacecraft rarely pop into being spontaneously, the process of bringing one up is by necessity slow, even when a dictator is breathing down your neck. So it’s unlikely that Mr. Kim was reading the Guam base commander’s morning newspaper headline, instead at best he might have seen a low resolution picture or perhaps even nothing of substance as yet. The mere fact of having a satellite is enough to rattle his sabre, so of course the North Korean propaganda machine will make hay with it.

Should anyone be worried? Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War will remember the endless game of brinkmanship, and to us this feels very familiar. The sun will still rise tomorrow, and spy satellites from many nations will continue to try to read our newspapers. We’re guessing that there will be more launched from North Korea, and we can’t help remembering that not all countries who developed a space launcher managed to launch more than one craft.

29 thoughts on “Could North Korea’s New Satellite Have Spied On Guam So Easily?

  1. Good analysis. The speed of the press releases is certainly suspect, but the DPRK has the intelligence to craft the “proof” as needed. Previous failure to obtain orbit was merely announced as success.

  2. A few major news sources covering this event have stated North Korea had significant “help” from either Russia or China. So it’s not like North Korea started from scratch. I have not yet read credible evidence of whether the North Korean “spy” satellite is capable of high-resolution optical photography, RF interception, or some other form of spying.

  3. Until humanity develops a backup plan the more countries that progress towards space travel the better.

    Even if that starts with spy satellites. Everyone else has one why would I care of DPRK does too?

    1. I think it’s probably more “NK can put a nuke wherever they want” and they seem more likley to use them than any other nation (yes probably even russia) that people find concerning

  4. But one thing to consider, if North Korea has the technology to launch a satellite, and it seems it does, it has the technology to drop a nuclear bomb on just about anyone with orbital bombardment (I know it’s outlawed, but North Korea), they still have to develop a small enough nuke and re-entry technology, but hey they finally got the sat to work.

  5. Imagine not only picking fault at an insignificant typo in a free article as if the author is somehow obliged to be perfect, but making a far bigger mistake (incorrectly specifying the gender of the author) in the very comment in which you do so. What a shame you can’t delete comments on here.

  6. In your second sentence, “It” should not be capitalized.

    “I digress” is a complete sentence with subject and verb. That should be followed by a period, and “proof” should be capitalized as the beginning of your next sentence. Either that or a semicolon to separate your two subject/noun pairs, with “reading” being your next subject.

    But good job on proof reading your sentences. One-out-of-three ain’t bad.

  7. N.K.has no the technology to get so fast the info from satellite, building satellites,what is worst the construction of precision missiles, evidently the “help ” of CH or RU to cause trouble to nations .

    1. Are you here shilling for the Chinese government/military or the Russian one? Please remember to register as an agent of a dictatorship with the US State Department, then come back and tell us all about how your great and glorious leader is going to bring back Blockbuster Video and rule the world.

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