Sunday 7 February 2016

North Korea has launched Kwangmyŏngsŏng 4

Launch of KMS-4 (still from N-Korean tv announcement)

My previous blogpost of Feb 4 (with an update on Feb 5) discussed the announced launch of a new North Korean satellite, Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 (KMS-4), from Sohae satellite Launch center in the northwest of North Korea.

Yesterday (Feb 6), North Korea suddenly shifted the start of the launch window one day forward, from February 8 to February 7 (local date). No reason was given for this date shift.

The actual launch happened this morning at 00:29 UT (February 7, 2016), according to USSTRATCOM.

It appears to have been successful, to the extend that  they did successfully put an object into orbit, as the US military tracking network confirms. As the history with KMS 3-2 shows, whether the payload is really operational is another question and as for yet unanswered.

North Korean television announced the successful launch a few hours ago, in a bulletin in characteristic fashion, including images of the launch and of Kim Jong-Un watching the launch from Sohae:

Launch time

The launch time prediction of my previous post (and in this seesat list post) turns out to have been correct.

I indicated a launch between 00:24 and 00:41 UT (a 17 minute period out of a 5 hour window indicated by the North Koreans). The start of this window at 00:24 UT was based on the assumption of a launch at a similar solar elevation at Pyongyang as during the 2012 launch of KMS 3-2 (the end at 00:41 UT was based assuming a launch exactly 5 2 hours after Pyongyang sunrise rather than at a similar solar elevation to 2012).

The actual launch occurred at 00:29 UT, only a few minutes from the start of the window which I indicated. It corresponds to a solar elevation of 18.0 degrees at Pyongyang (the 2012 launch happened at a solar elevation of 17.5 degrees).


The first orbital elements from JSpOC show two objects in orbit as a result of the launch: an A-object (catalogue number 41332, 2016-009A) and a B-object (catalogue number 41333, 2016-009B). The A-object is likely the satellite.

The A-object moves in  a 97.5 degree inclined, 465 x 502 km sun-synchronous polar orbit with an orbital period of 94.3 minutes. The satellite makes daily morning passes around ~9h am. It has a repeating ground-track every 4th day. This is consistent with a remote-sensing role.

The orbit is somewhat lower and  more circular than that of North Korea's previous satellite, KMS 3-2, which was initially placed in a 495 x 588 km orbit. Like the 2012 launch, North Korea had to perform a dogleg manoeuvre to attain an orbital inclination of 97.5 degrees after launching due south from Sohae (see discussion in my previous post).

The second, B object is the spent upper stage of the rocket, and is moving in a 433 x 502 km orbit.

The map below shows the satellite's ground-track during the first 5 orbits after launch:

North Korea's ruler Kim Jong-Un watched the launch from the grounds of the Sohae Satellite Launch Center. In the image below, he is observing the rocket ascend from a viewing platform which appears to be in front of the oval building that was erected at Sohae between March and July 2014 (see this satellite photo analysis on the 38 North blog).

A few more stills of the launch, taken from the North Korean tv broadcast:

The launch of Kwangmyŏngsŏng 4 is the second time that the North Korean rocket program was successful in placing an object in orbit. North Korea itself claims a number more successful launches, but these failed according to western sources as no objects were tracked in orbit.

Current spatial separation of the orbital planes of KMS 3-2 and KMS 4

Note added 18:00 UT, 7 Feb: a brief update noting inconsistencies between early western tracking data and a DPRK announcement is here.


Unknown said...

Great Job! Would you mind explaining what you mean by remote-sensing?

SatTrackCam Leiden said...

Remote sensing: making imagery of the Earth Surface, usually optical or near-optical, but also with Lidar, radar.
A sun-synchronous orbit points top optical remote-sensing (it means that during each pass, solar elevation is more or less similar. This means shadows on the image are similar, which aids day-to-day comparison for any changes in the landscape.

Unknown said...

makes sense, any idea from the orbit on what type of sensors this craft has?