Wednesday 17 May 2023

Gearing up for a new North Korean satellite launch

photo: KCNA

On May 17, the North Korean News Agency KCNA and the North Korean State Newspaper Rodong Sinmun carried a news item, accompanied by photographs, of Kim Jung Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae inspecting a new North Korean satellite in its assembly facility.

Photographs show a satellite purportedly undergoing testing. It is identified in the news items as military reconnaissance satellite no. 1, said to be "at the final stage" and "ready for loading after undergoing the final general assembly check and space environment test".

The satellite looks superficially similar to Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 (KMS-3).  It is an oblong box with what looks to be hinged, deployable solar panels on two of its four sides. 

The satellite has been blurred on the imagery. What appears to be sensors can nevertheless be seen, albeit blurred (and perhaps the images might be in other ways manipulated).

My cautious estimate is that the satellite measures approximately 1.5 x 1.2 x 0.6 meter.

photo: KCNA

photo: KCNA

photo: KCNA

Protrusions that could be sensors can be seen, on the top and on the sides. Here are some very cautious interpretations (and I am open to other suggestions) of the blurred imagery details:

possible sensors on top (interpretation)

possible sensors on side (interpretation)

The most likely launch site will be Sohae (39.66N, 124.70 E), where previously KMS 3-2 and KMS 4 were launched from. Sohae has seen intermittent construction works the past year.

In April, North Korean State Media already announced that the country was at the verge of a reconnaissance satellite launch. Components purportedly have been tested as part of recent missile test launches, some of which featured remote sensing imagery.

This new KCNA report of Kim Jung Un visiting the test/assembly facility, is another sign that a satellite launch is probably not too far off in the future.

Most likely the satellite will be launched into a ~97 degree inclined sun-synchronous polar orbit at roughly 500 km altitude, as KMS 3-2 and KMS 4 were. KMS 3-2 and KMS 4 were launched with UNHA-3 rockets: perhaps this new satellite will be as well.

The imagery below, which I shot in September 2018, shows North Korea's satellite KMS-4 (Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4), which was launched in February 2016 and was their last satellite launch:

1 comment:

JimO said...

For comparison, here's my trip report to the Sohae launch center, with NBC News.