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North Korea’s satellite is out of control

The controversial satellite launched by North Korea is now out of control, flying haphazardly around the planet risking collisions with other satellites

Yesterday, we reported on North Korea's new rocket test, which placed an object (according to the North Koreans it was a weather satellite) in orbit. The launch outraged pretty much the entire international community, and though Japan and South Korea were initially unable to confirm success of the launch, NORAD and now several other monitoring entities around the world, have confirmed that the North Koreans did indeed get something into orbit.

It's the Korean peninsula from space. Can you tell where NK is?

 

Getting something into orbit is one thing; getting it to behave is quite another. Originally, the satellite was intended for a polar orbit (an odd choice considering that the rotation of the earth would make a prograde launch to the east easier). However, the object is now tumbling out of control, according to US officials. This makes the object a collision risk for other satellites, and that's bad news for two reasons.

 

First, obviously, a collision will mean the end of a satellite, and it wouldn't be the first time it happened. In 2009, an American satellite collided in orbit with a 1-ton derelict Russian satellite, destroying both. The second, and more dangerous problem with an orbital collision, is that it will create fast flying and tiny debris. Such debris is too small to track from the ground, and thus impossible to avoid during space missions. Even something as small as a screw, when traveling at several kilometers per second, could easily punch it's way through the hull of a spaceship, threatening the lives of the astronauts and equipment within. Then of course there's the concern that this was no satellite at all, but rather a missile test for ICBMs.

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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