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North Korea recently launched a test rocket in preparation of sending up their first spy satellite. Screenshot from YouTube and Hindustan Times
Rocket Man Is at It Again
Last Sunday, North Korea launched yet another two ballistic missiles from its northwestern Tongchang-RI area, further ratcheting tensions on the Korean peninsula. The dual launch comes days after the hermit state announced the successful launch of a new solid-fuel rocket that would be used in future missile systems. The pair flew about 310 miles downrange, reaching a maximum altitude of roughly 340 miles before splashing down in the Sea of Japan (known to the North Koreans as the “Korean East Sea”).
The latest launch prompted an emergency meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council.
The North Korean government acknowledged that the launch was an important step towards deploying their first-ever spy satellite, a long-time goal of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. In a somewhat weak attempt to impress the world with their accomplishment, Pyongyang released low-resolution images of two South Korean cities, Incheon and Seoul. Odds are the technologically advanced South Koreans were not overly impressed with the images you see below.
The images above were released by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA). As reported in The Washington Post, KCNA stated the test launches were to evaluate the satellite’s photography and data transmission systems. In that respect, the tests were apparently successful. North Korea’s counterpart to NASA is the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), and they label the results of the mission as “an important success which has gone through the final gateway process of the launch of reconnaissance satellite.” NADA states that they are working on completing final preparations for their first military reconnaissance satellite by April of 2023, only a few short months away.
A security analyst for the Rand Corporation, Soo Kim, is quoted in WaPo as saying,
“From the images released, the resolution does not appear to be so impressive for military reconnaissance.”
He continued, “I’d note, however, that this is probably an ongoing development, so we may see more improvements to North Korea’s military reconnaissance capabilities over time.” It is possible that the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is trying to “sandbag” us, not showing us the full extent of its capabilities, but given Kim Jong-un’s propensity to show off, I doubt this is the case. What we see is probably the best they have right now, and it’s not that great given that it’s almost 2023
New Year’s Resolution
In the United States, commercial satellites are restricted to releasing images with a resolution no greater than 25 centimeters. Ok, so what does that mean? Regarding spatial resolution of satellite imagery data, resolution refers to the size of one pixel on the ground. Therefore, a resolution of 25 cm means that each pixel shows 25 cm of surface area in an image taken by that satellite. Not bad, but nowhere near the resolution of our military satellites, which is classified.
Kim’s Wish List
Some of us have a new TV or rims for the car on our personal wish list for this holiday season. Kim Jong-un is a bit different. In a ruling party meeting last year, WaPo reports that Kim’s wish list for new military assets included multi-warhead missiles, solid fuel long-range missiles, solid fuel long-range missiles, and a nuclear-powered submarine. That last one is definitely considered to be “a big ticket item.” These specific wants are in addition to his general desire to build his nuclear arsenal to the point he can strike any location in the continental United States.
Bring on Space Force
Since we tend to like to keep a close eye on egomaniacal dictators with nuclear weapons, US Space Force last week formally launched (no pun intended) a unit in South Korea last week at Osan Air Base near Seoul. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua McCullion, chief of the new unit, spoke during the activation ceremony. He said, in part, “Just 48 miles north of us exists an existential threat; a threat that we must be prepared to deter, defend against, and – if required – defeat,”
The head of the Korea Defense Study Forum, Jung Chang Wook, states that the mission of Space Force on the Korean peninsula is to “bring together diverse surveillance assets, including space-based satellites, in one organization to manage and develop them in an effective, systemic manner.”
Just last month US Space Force established its Indo-Pacific command in Hawaii. The group in Korea is a sub-unit of that command. The need is certainly there because recent Pentagon reports indicate that both Russia and China are working on advanced technologies that would allow them to quickly destroy American satellites in a potential future conflict.
Who says we’re not in the middle of a new cold war?
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