Monday 12 October 2020

North Korea's October ICBM surprise

click to enlarge. Screenshot from KCTV broadcast

Saturday 10 October 2020 saw North Korea's big military parade in PyongYang, connected to the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party of Korea. A nighttime parade this time, unlike previous years.

Those who follow the North Korean rocket and missile program always eagerly await these parades, as sometimes new missiles are presented. They were not disappointed this year.

The most interesting new missiles presented were a new version of the Pukkuksong SLBM and, at the very end of the parade, a surprise appearance of four immense 11-axle TEL's, each carrying a very large missile that appears to be a new Hwasong ICBM variant (see images above and below).


click to enlarge. Screenshot from KCTV broadcast

This missile at first sight looks like a larger variant of the flight-proven Hwasong 15 from 2017 (several of which were also shown in the parade). Below is my attempt at getting dimensions for this potential new ICBM:


click to enlarge

First, some caveats with this dimensional analysis:

* I had to work from a limited resolution screenshot I took from the KCTV broadcast;

* The baseline used is based on a Google Earth measurement;

* The image is wide angle and has some barrel distortion. This means that the straight sightlines I have drawn, are an approximation.

All these points will cause uncertainties in the measurements, so don't take them too strictly. Behind the decimal, they are probably no more accurate than to 0.2 meter or perhaps even worse.

The dimensional baseline I used is the distance from the stair entrance at left to the center of the area between the grass borders. The platform with stairs is visible on a Google Earth image, and I measure a distance of ~26.25 meter to the square center line, which is used as the base referal length here (please note: I assumed the two patches of grass are at equal distance to this centerline. Similar for the area with the orchestra at the other side of the road).

In this way, I get the following approximate dimensions:

* 25.6 meter for the total missile length (not counting nozzle);

* 2.7 to 2.8 meter for the first stage diameter;

* 2.3 meter for the base diameter of the nose fairing/Post Boost Vehicle;

* 30.5 meter for the TEL, from front bumper to the feet of the firing table;

* 16.9 meter for the first stage length (assuming it ends at the chequer-pattern);

* 4.5 meter for the second stage length.

As Jeffrey Lewis noted, the second stage appears to be slightly tapered in shape.

By comparison: the Hwasong 15 (test flown in 2017) measures 21.5 meter in length (not counting the exhaust nozzle) and is about 2.4 meter in diameter. 

Hence, this new Hwasong variant appears to be a factor of 1.2 larger in both length and diameter compared to the Hwasong 15. Several commenters have pointed out that this makes it the largest road-mobile ICBM ever.

As is usual, discussion has emerged whether this is a real missile, or just a fancy mock-up. There is still too much of a tendency, especially among an American audience, to regard North Korean missiles as all 'smoke and mirrors'. Given North Korea's 2017 track record with succesful Hwasong 12 IRBM and Hwasong 15 ICBM test flights, I do not think that the default reaction should be that this new missile must be a deception. Of course, we will only know for sure when we see it launched.

It will be interesting to see if, and if so when, this large missile is test-flown.

Friday 9 October 2020

No, this reentry footage is not a fireball that appeared over Mexico on September 6/7



On 7 September 2020 near 2:14 UT (6 September 22:14 local time) a bright fireball appeared over Mexico, creating some media attention. As part of that attention, a video surfaced and was widely  retweeted, purporting to show this fireball. The image above is a screenshot of this video.

However: the object on this video is not the fireball from 7 September 2020

It is an 'old' recycled video from July 2020, showing a space debris reentry.

The video shows a very slow fragmenting object that is clearly reentering space debris. There was something familiar to it, which was one thing that raised my suspicion (I thought I had seen it before). The other thing that raised my suspicion was that this video clearly does not show the same object as other videos that showed up, which show the genuine September 7 fireball (like this one) .

Doing a Google Reverse Image Search quickly turned up Reddit posts from July 2020 (e.g. this one), featuring this same video, indicating that the footage was at least 2.5 months old (and hence definitely not the fireball of 7 September, confirming my suspicions).

The video does show a genuine reentry. The reentry in question happend on July 18th, 2020. The Reddit post linked above is from that date. Other video's of clearly the same reentry that was also seen from the USA posted on that date exist too.

And this is why the video looked so familiar to me: back in July I already identified footage of the same reentry as the reentry of a Russian Soyuz rocket stage (2019-079C), the second stage from the Soyuz rocket that launched the military Kosmos 2542 satellite on 25 November 2019. 

According to a CSpOC TIP message from July 18th 2020, this rocket stage reentered on 18 July 2020 07:02 UT (+/- 1 minute: this time accuracy indicates a SBIRS or DSP infra-red detection of the reentry) near 26.8 N, 101.2 W, over Northeast Mexico near the border with Texas. The map below depicts the final trajectory of the rocket stage and the CSpOC reentry position:


Click map to enlarge

This case highlights again that footage appearing on Twitter or other social media after an event  is not always what it purports to be, and one should always check whether it shows what it purports to show.