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Scrambled Transmission; North Korea's Cloudy Space History

While North Korea reported a successful launch of its Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite on Sunday, many other countries have disputed whether any payload from the rocket successfully reached orbit. This continues as the third launch attempt in North Korea's history, and the third launch attempt to end in controversy. What is known and confirmed by North Korea, Japan, and the U.S. and other countries tracking the launch is that liftoff occured at 11:30AM (GMT), and that the first stage of the rocket performed as designed, burning out and separating, eventually falling into the sea of Japan. But it is at this time that reports differ between North Korea and the rest of the countries tracking the launch: North Korea claims the rocket continued into space as normal, while agencies in Russia, the U.S. and South Korea claim that the rocket malfunctioned, falling into the pacific ocean without reaching the necessary speed or altitude for orbit. 

Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 launch on YTN televisionImage Credit: YTN news agency

 Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2's launch as seen on YTN, a South Korean news network.

 

 This marks the second time that North Korean space launches have been disputed. The success of North Korea's first launch attempt, in September of 1998, is something that is still disputed. There were early claims that an internal message from the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia reported that they did indeed find and track the satellite. However, the U.S. South Korea, and other nations have denied the success of the launch. Furthermore, North Korea's second launch attempt in 2006 ended in failure only 42 seconds after liftoff. While it is still unclear whether North Korea has indeed succesfully launched a satellite or not, the debate will certainly continue long after the smoke has cleared.

2009-06-04 
Matthew Cannella
Explorerfish Space Correspondant

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