North likely to launch another rocket, says expert

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North likely to launch another rocket, says expert


North Korea may attempt to launch another satellite within a year, said a South Korean rocket launch authority after North Korea’s botched efforts to launch Unha-3, a long-range rocket, on Friday.

A reporter from the JoongAng Ilbo met with Cho Gwang-rae, a senior researcher at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, at their headquarters in Daedeok, Daejeon.

While North Korea failed to put the Earth-observing Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit as the rocket was reduced to debris minutes after liftoff, Cho also said it is likely that North Korea has a second rocket, since most countries create at least one backup rocket in the development process just in case something goes wrong.

“Of course the dynamics in international politics will also be a variable,” Cho added. He said investigating the cause of a rocket failure also takes around six months.

Cho, the head of South Korea’s Naro rocket launch team, is an expert in the field who spent some 20 years developing rocket-launched satellites including the Naro-1, South Korea’s first space rocket. Attempts to launch Naro-1 to put a research satellite into orbit in August 2009 and June 2010 both failed. There will be a third attempt in October.

“Seeing that [the Unha-3] broke into 20 pieces, it seems like a midair explosion,” said Cho. Regarding the cause of the failure of Unha-3, “It can be presumed that there was a flaw in the first stage.”

A sensor attached to the rocket most likely transmitted data back to the launch site Sohae Space Launching Station from before the launch until it exploded, said Cho, and if North Korea analyzed that data along with the pieces of debris from the rocket they “should be able to analyze the cause to a certain extent.”

South Korean, Russian and Chinese militaries continued their search of the North Korean rocket in the Yellow Sea over the weekend to collect pieces, but no progress was reported as of yesterday.

“Unless we’re very lucky, it is difficult to find all 20 pieces and find out the cause of the failure,” said Cho, “but it will be a great help to analyze North Korea’s rockets.”

Unha-3’s explosion was the third failed attempt by North Korea to put a satellite into orbit after earlier attempts in 1998 and 2009. Unha-2 in 2009 flew higher, over 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles). But Cho does not see this failed attempt as a regression in North Korea’s rocket technology. “Rocket technology advances more with failure. Even Russia, who has launched many successful rockets, has recently failed several times consecutively.”


By Park Bang-ju [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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