Space: We Did It Ourselves


January 31, 2013: South Korea missile experts were able to closely examine many components from the North Korean missile launched on December 12. After examining the components for over a month the South Korean engineers and scientists have concluded that most of the components appear to have been made in North Korea. The rocket was based on much older (1960s and 70s) technology and the design of the rocket engine was almost identical to one built in Iran. The imported components of the missile were items that are not covered by sanctions, as they have many other industrial uses. The Iranian connection was long known as was North Korean access to older Russian rocket technology.

The rocket put a malfunctioning satellite in orbit. South Korea recovered many components of the rocket (the first two stages fell back to earth in international waters) and engineers were able to study the pieces, as well as satellite photos of the rocket before launch. South Korean engineers initially reported that the construction of the missile components retrieved appeared to be sloppy and there were some foreign components in the rocket. Further examination concluded that the North Korean components and construction techniques were crude but effective (if not as reliable and efficient as Western or Russian designs).

International sanctions did not allow for the North Korean launch and there may be more sanctions as a result. But as long as China does not enforce the sanctions, North Korea can get by. North Korea has pitched the rocket launch to its people as a major achievement. But since most have little electricity or heat right now, it’s uncertain how much morale will soar because of the failed satellite launch. The North Korean government has been quiet about the fact that the satellite it put into orbit has not been broadcasting anything back to earth.

Meanwhile, on January 30th, South Korea, using a smaller rocket (designed and manufactured in South Korea), put a South Korean satellite into orbit. This bird contains several different items of equipment to be used to analyze weather data, measure radiation in orbit, and test how effectively several South Korean-made devices operate in space. This was not given much media coverage in North Korea.