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.