North Korea satellite partly functioning, U.S. analyst says

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used radar data to check on the status of the Kwangmyongsong-4.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  March 14, 2016 at 1:28 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 14 (UPI) -- North Korea's satellite may no longer be tumbling in orbit.

That was one of the conclusions regarding the recently launched Kwangmyongsong-4, the satellite that was said to be "tumbling in orbit," according to a U.S. defense official in February.

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used radar data from Marco Langbroek, a Netherlands-based archaeologist and amateur astronomer, to make the analysis, Voice of America reported.

McDowell said the satellite has stopped tumbling and is in a stable position. The spacecraft's lower body is facing earth.

The astrophysicist said the satellite is even partly functioning, although there have been no radio signals from the object to date. It was also unclear, McDowell said, whether the satellite only communicates with land when it passes over the North Korean sky, or whether there were no signals due to a malfunction.

McDowell said an upper-stage rocket and two other objects accompanied the Kwangmyongsong-3 in orbit in 2012. By contrast, the Kwangmyongsong-4 is orbiting earth with the upper-stage rocket alone.

The satellite, launched in February, is "not simply a mass of scrap metal," said the analyst.

Critics have said Pyongyang's satellite launches are a cover for a test of North Korea's ballistic missiles, but the North has said those claims aren't true.

In mid-February, the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union, an organization that promotes cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, stated North Korea did not provide relevant information prior to launch.

The ITU has delivered a letter of strong warning to North Korea.

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