May, June, July 2006 Build-up to the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 Satellite Launch Attempt.
06-17-06, Updated 07-05-06
By C. P. Vick, Senior Fellow, GlobalSecurity.org
According to DoD, State Department and White House news sources, on the afternoon and evening of July 4, 2006, US time, there were apparently at least six launches from North Korean over a span of four hours .
The US, NORAD and North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado also provided information on the multiple launches since it had been placed on the highest alert status on Monday July 3, 2006. There were reports of as many as 10 missile launches that were not confirmed. The military missile exercise of North Korea were characterized as a “Provocation” with no immediate threat to the US and as political theater “show of force” to the United States and the World at large.
According to DoD and the White House, the first launch from Kittaeryong at 2:32 PM EDT was an older Scud-B/C? or No-dong-A launch into the Sea of Japan. This was followed by a second launch from Kittaeryong at 3:04 PM of a second No-dong-A launch into the Sea of Japan. These two launches included one which was launched northward to impact between Hokkaido the northern island of Japan and Russia's far eastern shore falling some 500 km short of the Japanese Island while the other was shot in some unspecified direction and fell some 600 km short of mainland Japan. The impact in the Sea of Japan appears to suggest that these older No-dong-A’s missiles were flown on a high altitude ballistic trajectory, rather than a shallower full range trajectory that .
The third missile launch, which occured at 4:01 PM, was either a Taep’o-dong-2A or 2B and or 2C/3 configuration that failed between 30 and 60 seconds of launch according to initial reports. Indications are that the telemetry was lost between 50-52 seconds perhaps due to its break-up or possibly sea impact. According to DoD, sources and White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, based on telemetry, it failed between 35-40-42 seconds into the launch over the Musudan-ri (No-dong-A/Taep’o-dong-2) launch infrastructure since it only for burned 42 seconds. Hadley also indicated that the North Koreans have several more Scud-B’s and No-Dong-A missiles ready to launch beyond the six launches that had already occurred. This launch failure is indicative of a characteristic max–Q maximum dynamic pressure failure mid-air tilting over folding break-up taking several seconds of in flight catastrophic disassembly. Speculating a little further, it would appear to be a possible propulsion clustering and or Vernier steering control authority, guidance loss of control failure by the first stage which should have burned between 112-120-130 seconds depending on which configuration was launched as the final design. Almost certainly it was a satellite launch at an inclination of 41 degrees or perhaps a three stage booster dummy warhead launch to impact down range in the south Pacific relative to South America. This analyst is reasonably certain it was not aimed at the United States at a much higher inclination as discussed below. It ultimately either impacted near the launch site infrastructure just offshore in the Sea of Japan. Sandy Berger said on CNN, Larry King’s panel interview program that “He would not want to be the head of the Taep’o-dong program in North Korea”.
The State Department had earlier said that the Propellant tanker trucks were removed from the launch facility about a day before the launch. The renewal of activity was apparently detected by intelligence sources and methods monitoring capability over the weekend. It had become apparent that all parties knew by late Friday that the launch vehicle was undergoing final preparation which dove tails the previous officials comment through this last weekend. The weather, as expected, finally cleared to partly cloudy night time over North Korea, at least briefly. This analyst still suspects that North Korea had first stage build up preparation problems.
This third launch was then followed up with a fourth launch at 6:12 PM by an old Scud-B/C launch into Sea of Japan. It in turn was followed up by a fifth launch of another older No-dong-A launch presumably from Kittaeryong at perhaps 6:31 PM or an unknown time into the Sea of Japan. Yet another sixth launch of another No-dong-A from Kittaeryong at 6:31 PM or an unknown time into the Sea of Japan was also observed. Still a seventh Scud-B/C or No-doing-A was launched into the Sea of Japan of perhaps ten launches observed through late Wednesday North Korean time. The ten launches information comes from the Russia’s Chief of the General Staff.
Additional launches are expected and a follow up Taep’o-dong satellite or ballistic launch can in due course be expected. All the launches were said to be observed in real time or near real time by the applied allied intelligence sources and methods. Some confusion still exists on which missile configurations were flown and the timing of those individual launches is apparent from this data collection. That is expected to be clarified.
Early expectations of the launch attempt appeared to have been premature for a prototype launch vehicle preparation operation based on world demonstrated practices. Early analysis at first would seem to point to a July or August flight test but events seem to initially suggest otherwise. If this launch does not occur within the next four weeks or two months then it must be assumed that some political policy and or technical issue have scrubbed this attempt for some unknown period. Depending on when the rainy season begins in North Korea and propellant status issues, this launch window could be as much as a month or several months long for this North Korean launch campaign. This is more realistic to the expected requirements for a successful orbital launch mission.
Previously, this web site has reported that the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 launch was expected soon because of both the engineering progress subtly identified from both static test firings, launch site additions and the flight test of the No-dong-B on January 17, 2006 out of Iran for both North Korea and Iran. This would appear to confirm President Bush ’s “Axis of Evil ” statement in a very blatant way as both Iran and North Korea thumbs their collective nose to the rest of the world ’s desires. For further information on these see; http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/missile-development.htm as well as from http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/dprk/nd-b.htm and the No-dong-B test flight http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/2006/cpvick-no-dong-b_2006.htm.
It also provided Iran with the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 technology base. Iran for some time now has been trying to get the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 for its own strategic and space programs. A successful flight-test to orbit by the North Koreans would enhance its value to the Iranians who have also contributed considerably through the years to this joint effort.
This January 17, 2006 test firing of the No-dong-B confirmed the end of the North Korean long range ballistic missile self-imposed testing moratorium from 1999 through 2003 that was continued until March 2005. This is when North Korea declared it was no longer bound by its self-imposed moratorium.
Which Design Change Surprise?
It took place in the context of being near the end of what has now turned out to be part of a seven year research and development cycle circumstantially apparently dropping the original derivations of the Taep’o-dong-2 , 2A, or 2B design and culminating in a flight test to orbit for the new higher performance prototype Taep’o-dong-2C/3 and its satellite payload. For all practical purposes, it is a Taep’o-dong-3 replacing the old Taep’o-dong-2 design concept mock-up seen in 1994 imagery. The highly successful precursor No-dong-B operational deployed test flight out of Iran successfully demonstrated the performance of the totally redesigned Taep’o-dong- 2C/3 or 2B second stage as well as the common propulsion system used in the first stage of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3. This new first stage propulsion is different from the Taep’o-dong- 2, 2A original conceptual satellite space booster, intercontinental ballistic missile launch vehicle design. That original Taep’o-dong-2, 2A design was based on the No-dong-A technology not the No-dong-B technology for the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 design. The Taep’o-dong-2B reflects the combined technologies with the first stage using the No-dong-A technology while the second stage uses the No-dong-B. Which design of the flight test launch vehicle is displayed and flown will for intelligence define how far along the North Korean missile technology have developed. The deployment and successful launch of the No-dong-B was a real warning of how advanced they are at this point. Tentative preliminary analysis would suggest that it is the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 design based on a close examination of the June 9th image of the raised pad under the gantry service levels does barely reveal possibly a white booster first stage engine boat tail sitting on the pad. The resolution is so low as to be irresolvable for the required clarity certainty of this analysis. This may also indicate that the launch vehicle may not be using large base fins as illustrated below but instead is using gimbals mounted vernier thrust chambers for steering like the No-dong-B uses. This would place this booster in the Russian SS-7/R-16, ICBM design technology category. In retrospect, this appears to have been the real purpose of the North Korean so-called self-imposed testing moratorium in order to buy time to develop this better performance launch vehicle design and with no intentions of doing otherwise. The moratorium was a successful shell game on the World stage with all of its implications.
Deployment and Proliferation Probability
If North Korea was to finally give up this seriously threatened launch attempt as an exercise in systems integration ground testing to get concessions similar to the Iranian package offer in the Six-Party, talks on the North Korean nuclear and missile programs in the face of the Worlds united resolve. They then should dismantle it in plain site for all to see to their satisfaction. Ultimately it has to be assumed that as previously predicted by this web site that if North Korea does not flight test the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 launch vehicle then almost certainly Iran will do so for North Korea and Iran . This is in spite of the fact that the launch site for Iran is not known or completed at the present time. It would also portend DPRK own limited deployment for political reasons of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 in coffin or silo facilities with or without this flight test much as they did with No-dong-B.
Satellite Payload Background North Korean or Iranian or Both
Several years ago when North Korea opened an exhibit of a mock up of its original satellite at its science museum it also displayed a communication satellite mock up that was said to be several years from launching. This satellite presumably named Gwangmyeongseong-2 is assumed to be the payload of this first attempted Taep’o-dong-2C/3 (Baekdusan-2) launch. It has also been suggested that a weather satellite may be the payload. The payload mass is expected to be in the 170 and 250-550 kilogram range and it could very well turn out to be an Iranian or Iranian/DPRK satellite design already planned. The fact that the launch site is above ground exposed where a very great deal can be observed certainly holds that this is a occasional satellite launch attempt not a strategic ballistic missile operation. If the launch were to occur from a coffin launch site or a large silo facility then it would be an easily recognizable strategic systems test. A true full-range ICBM flight test is not at this time expected out of North Korea. There is very little difference between an ICBM and a satellite launch vehicle test since the delivery transport system is being commonly demonstrated.
Ongoing Intelligence Operations
Based on open-press reports, intelligence operations have been carried out by US, Japanese and South Korean assets such as the three-to-six available USAF U-2 spy planes or space-based U.S. KH-12 and Japanese imaging observation satellites as well as HUMINT sources and methods assets. SIGINT (signals intelligence - ie radio signals traffic) monitoring has been reported via ship-based and RC-135 radar and RC-135S Cobra Ball SIGINT aircraft on continuous shift duty with in-flight refueling for the past week or so among others known. SIGINT has clearly been picking up the testing as it is conducted, otherwise these press reports would not be appearing with the detail that they have. These new ship-based and mobile land-based SIGINT, RADINT assets have been based in Japan and South Korea for some years now. According to published reports, Japan has deployed two of its four Aegis destroyers one in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Sea of Japan. The US Navy, meanwhile, has deployed two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and other monitoring ships in the Sea of Japan, off the coast of North Korea near the Musudan-ri (No-dong-A/Taep’o-dong) launch site. This is done to carry out the early tracking as well as data gathering should a launch occur.
Such launches would first be picked up by the Defense Support Program (DSP) infrared (IR) early warning (EW) satellite in addition to IR-, EW- and SIGINT-based satellite detectors along with the recognition of the increased SIGINT satellite monitored radio traffic from the launch. Subsequently, it would be picked up by Japanese home radars and NSA SIGINT facilities followed by the US Army /NSA, US Air Force Shemya radar station, possibly as well the Hawaiian and Kwajalein Atoll radars. The US navy has also committed its “ Observation Island ” ship equipped with its Cobra Jude radar to this monitoring effort along with the Japanese ship based Maritime Self-Defense Force deployment. Meanwhile, three carrier strike groups that completed the largest exercise since Vietnam on June 23, 2006 but may now be taking part in further war games of Hawaii explained below but could potentially become available should the need arise.
It was learned on June 29 that Japan’s, Maritime Self-Defense Force had earlier ordered its third Aegis advanced radar ship capable of tracking opposing missiles and capable of guiding interceptor missiles the destroyer Kirishima back to the Japanese waters. This ship has left the US controlled multinational Rim of Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) major naval war game exercise near Hawaii . This is to supplement the Japanese ships already deployed in the region as noted above. It had already participated in the June 22 ballistic missile warhead tracking drill with the US Navy. The US navy has also deployed two Aegis radar destroyers normally based in Yokosuka , Japan . This is in addition to two US Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and other monitoring ships in the Sea of Japan , off the coast of North Korea . The Kirishima is one of four Japanese destroyers with the US built Aegis missile interceptor radar capability. Two of these have already been deployed in Japanese waters as noted above. This is the fifth ship of its Aegis class to be deployed in an array to monitor the expected flight of the North Korean launch vehicle. The joint US and Japanese ship and land based monitoring capabilities are being marshaled in an organized array fashion so as to obtain the maximum intelligence from this expected flight test of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 when and if it occurs.
Have the North Korea ’s Intentions & Plans been identified by ONI?
Indications of North Korea ’s intentions may have been revealed through the chance monitoring of potential North Korean and perhaps Iranian launch data acquisition tracking ships activities. This is accomplished by observing the hardware activities and its range supporting infrastructure operations. Though this has not been confirmed it is known that Japan has in the past run into these modest but very powerful fast North Korean monitoring so called fishing ships. Certainly North Korea is known to have modest naval capabilities that could have been outfitted to accomplish this requirement. There is the probability that potentially some kind of tracking launch telemetry monitoring ships are deployed down range from the North Korean launch site in the Sea of Japan as well as on the Pacific Ocean near Japan under several key area’s of the launches ground track. Presumably the third stage with its payload may coast to the apogee of the orbit before it is fired to complete the orbit circularization insertion. This may require a monitoring command control ship to be located some where in the south eastern Pacific relative to South America . Monitoring of the activity of these ships may have provided an indicator of the North Korean plans and intentions. The US , Office of Naval Intelligence is presumably attempting to identify and monitor such activity on a continuous basis. As a matter of policy the US government would not acknowledge this if it had such implied confirming information available while dealing through the Six-Party negotiation process less it be undermined more than it already has from this mini missile crisis.
Classified Telemetry observations?
It is assumed that the observed launch vehicle telemetry testing only shows the operational launch planning of the first two stages while third stage telemetry is essentially silent. It is possible that it may be buried within the first two stages telemetry per Soviet/Russian practice. This would also suggest that the payload would remain silent until just seconds before separation from the second stage as seen in Soviet/Russian commercial satellite launches. Reports of only the first two stages being there do not preclude the highly probable third stage's presence for a satellite launch attempt. The demonstrated presence of the third stage would indicate this launch vehicle as an operational ICBM, which would be capable of covering most of the continental United States . It also however indicates’ that its present configuration is as a satellite launch vehicle. Vice President Dick Cheney while downgrading the launch threat made it clear on June 22 , 2006 that the launch vehicle consists of three stages but that the payload remained uncertain. It is however highly suspected to be a satellite not a warhead and would be highly consistent with the monitored SIGINT available as explained above. The Vice Presidents statement would seem to indicate that the telemetry for the third stage upon close examination was indeed identified. This SIGINT information if nearly complete would identify the launch vehicles full flight plans, velocities desired for each stage, their thrust, Specific Impulse, stage burn times, range distance and altitude, and general trajectory inclination details. It is unknown whether the allied intelligence operations have been able to accomplish this. As a matter of policy the US government would not acknowledge this if it had such implied confirming information available while dealing through the Six-Party negotiation process less it be undermined more than it already has from this mini missile crisis.
Based on the reports on the grainy imagery available to the South Korean NIS and all other imagery from US and Japanese sources and methods due to cloud cover must be based on space based radar imagery of varying degrees of grainy quality and the lingering U-2 flights with repeated passes over the points of interest imagery not available to the general public and press.
Unrealistic to Shoot Down this Launch
There has been the suggestion to shoot down the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 while it is in flight if it is aimed at the United States. If it is launched to place a satellite into earth orbit it will fly due east at approximately 41 degrees inclination out of the Musudan-ri (No-dong/Taep’o-dong) launch site. The trajectory ground track would head east and south towards the mid pacific equatorial crossing of roughly 180-160 degrees West or 180-200 degrees east. This is based on the Taep’o-dong-1 three stage launch precursor experience. This would, however, place the vehicle's trajectory nowhere near Alaska or California ABM facilities but closer to the Hawaiian Islands and Kwajalein Atoll. By the time the payload crosses the equator, it will have probably already have been placed into earth orbit. In order for the launch to approach the US, it would have to be flown on a much higher inclination dropping its first and second stages on the PRC/China and the Russian Federation which would permit it to cross the Alaskan route. This is highly improbable and brings into serious question the viability of such political public discussions.
Ground track map
This map view of the world shows the approximate ground track for an orbital launch out of North Korea using a minimum energy trajectory at an inclination of approximately 41 degrees. It can plainly be seen that the trajectory goes no where near Alaska or California. The other approximate flight paths show is for the ballistic trajectory aimed at various regions of the United States which would be subject to intercept if launched on such a flight path. It is also plainly clear that the first two stages of such ballistic missile flights would impact down range in China and Russia.
This world map view shows the approximate ground track of an orbital launch out of North Korea using a minimum energy trajectory at an inclination of approximately 45 degrees. Although the launch is expected to be close to 41 degrees inclination this still serves the purpose to indicate where the approximate flight path would be. This circular orbital ground track illustrates how very far its path is from the Alaska and California ABM systems installations. It also indicates the approximate line along which mission data gathering ships would be located at key points in the flight on both sides of Japan and in the South eastern Pacific relative close to South America.
First Reports and the Research & Development Process
The earliest published reports on the suggestion that North Korea may flight test a new larger Taep’o-dong-2/3 class booster were from around May 19th 2006. North Korea is notorious for deploying early development weapons system in the field like the former Soviet Union did to work out systems problems as was observed for the No-dong-B deployment in 2003 and 2004 before flight testing it as an operational system on January 17, 2006. Such confidence in weapons systems performance reliability can only be based on a thorough underground, ground testing regime. By Western standards, however, this is a very different way of doing such business successfully. So far, this methodology has proven highly successful for “rudimentary ” North Koreans missile programs.
Origin of the Reports
An open source Japanese commercial ground station for an American earth imagery commercial satellite (Japanese DigitalGlobe or Japanese GOI) as early as May 6th, or 11th, 2006 caught the North Korean missile teams arrive with road mobile booster stages, payload tarp-covered transport trailers and tractor trucks in the vicinity of the 55 meter long and 20-30 meters wide MIK horizontal assembly ready testing building near the North Korean Taep’o-dong-2C/3 Musudan-ri (No-dong/Taep’o-dong) launch site. The transporters with the booster and satellite hardware had been brought to the region buy ship barge to the nearby port facilities where they were unloaded. The May 6, 2006 imagery attempt is now presumed to be incorrect or unsuccessful.
GeoEye May 17th imagery
The May 17th GeoEye imagery seemed to indicate that the initial signs of vehicles and personnel activity had disappeared except for two trucks; one near the assembly building and the other parked near the two parked erectors on the No-dong-A circular pad next to the Taep’o-dong pad. It appeared that on or before May 17th, the booster ’s first two stages had been installed on the 2.0 meter inside diameter raised “Chinese like-Redstone-Jupiter ”- pad. That pad can accommodate the 2.2 meter diameter 107,400 kg thrust booster first stage.
This is probably when the so called “fall-away equipment ” test was observed by intelligence sources and methods. What they observed was probably the erectors being removed from the pad area while the umbilical fall-away pull test are normal non-destruct pre-launch testing before propellant-loading. North Korean missile military technicians would also carry out propellant tank pressurization and feed lines umbilical test to check their integrity before propellant-loading. These tests are among many basic types of quality control tests done before a launch. This all would have been preceded by a total non-destructive electronic systems integration testing in the preceding weeks.
Missing Hardware Commercial Imagery Explination
What is however missing is clear imagery of the pad with the launch vehicle on it during the assembly build-up or during the so-called fueling build-up process. In the usable open source imagery released to-date there is no evidence of a launch vehicle on the pad that can be for certain identified. The successful May 17th GeoEye and May 24th, June 9th DigitalGlobe and June 15 th, images are the only ones that have been available through June 28, 2006. This has made it impossible to confirm subsequent reports emanating out of Japan and South Korea. Commercial imagery collection attempts were made on March 19 by Japanese DigitalGlobe. Subsequent attempts were also made in May which was apparently unsuccessful except for the May 24th image. Digital Globe attempted other collects on June 1st, 11th, 14th and 19th but cloud cover prevented successful collection of imagery of the required launch infrastructure points of interest except for the June 9th image. The May 6, 2006 imagery attempt is now presumed to be incorrect or unsuccessful.
Digital Globe May 24th Imagery
The May 24th images confirmed the long-expected introduction of environmental curtains to the gantry service levels resulting in the total enclosure of the vehicle on the pad and thus preventing the top of the gantry to the bottom pad area from being viewed. In all previous imagery, the gantry umbilical towers' twelve service levels were plainly visible with no identifiable curtains. Through the June 9th imagery this continues to remain the case.
Digital Globe June 9th Imagery
The June 9th imagery certainly indicated considerably more launch infrastructure vehicles and personnel activities confirming the reported launch build-up suggestions. This imagery, though suffering from considerable ground reflection sensitization, is however quite revealing. At least two new vehicles, in addition to the previous vehicles identified, are parked in the vicinity of the MIK horizontal assembly building and a whole series of vehicles and or new equipment not identified before can be seen around the range launch control center. The launch pad area also seems to indicate some personnel and possible vehicle/facility activity. The lack of many visible personnel would seem to indicate a standing order to remain inside sheltered areas and that the total number of personnel involved is limited to strictly what is required for this launch build up. It is said that about 1,000 DPRK soldiers are guarding the region of the launch infrastructure. Presumably, there are Iranian engineer and technician observers also present and participating in this build-up operation. Close examination of the June 9th image of the raised pad under the gantry service levels does barely reveal the pad presence and possibly a white booster first stage engine boat tail sitting on the pad but the resolution is so low as to be irresolvable for the required clarity certainty of this analysis. This may also indicate that the launch vehicle may not be using large base fins but instead is using gimbals mounted vernier thrust chambers for steering like the No-dong-B uses. This is because this Taep’o-dong-2C/3 is based on the No-dong-B technology not the No-dong-A technology of the older original Taep’o-dong-2, 2A design as previously noted above. See http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/dprk/td-2.htm
June 15th image
The June 15th image due to the pixel size left much to be desired. It shows what appear to be two parallel parked vehicles near the base rear left-upper side of the umbilical tower of the gantry on the pad area and one vehicle pointed towards the tower on its right-rear lower side. Up on the left side of the circular No-dong-A pad areas, up to six or seven parked vehicles are visible, some of which are parallel parked. The two erectors remain in place and on the right side of the erectors is apparently one parked vehicle. Presumably this is the image that is the origin of the reported ten vehicles on the pad report of June 16, out of Japan and South Korea that later over the weekend became 40 parked vehicles. At least two more camouflaged army soldier transport trucks and one additional army vehicle have been identified on the road side parking area leading away from the pad to the MIK building making it a total of twelve to fourteen vehicles tentatively identified on the pad area on June 15, 2006. Only one vehicle as in earlier imagery shows up in the launch control center while only one vehicle shows up on the road leading to the pad near the MIK building and the dolly carriage remains in place near the rear MIK building.
The square dolly observed in the May 24 imagery outside the MIK horizontal assembly ready building is for the encapsulated satellite payload fairing and third stage payload which were hoisted and stacked by the gantry umbilical tower crane. It remains unclear whether the satellite payload had been stacked on top of the booster assemblage but this analyst thinks it has, based on other reports that say the stack is completely assembled with military technicians continuing preparatory work in the total infrastructure. Prior to this, the second stage was erected and hoisted for stacking on top of the first stage by the gantry umbilical tower crane. Based on Japanese reports, the encapsulated satellite payload fairing and third stage payload was apparently stacked some time on June 19, prior to the satellite imagery spotting technicians in the top of the gantry umbilical tower service levels.
Reviewing the last several weeks’ activity would suggest that the North Koreans have been putting on quite an expensive masquerade charade for the allied countries intelligence communities imaging and SIGINT systems with no real beef being displayed. That is not quite totally correct but does give some feel for what is presumed or potentially going on. This analyst is not so persuaded that this has been just a ploy for concessions only by the DPRK. This launch vehicle on the pad is no cardboard balloon replica as it is the satellite space booster launch vehicle expected. North Korea ’s established practice is to not use facilities systems test vehicles but when they were still working with the older design of the Taep’o-dong-2, 2A many years ago they erected the rocket on the pad for fifty days without fueling it and then removed it after systems integration testing. During one period, they also static test fired it on the pad. The redesigned vehicle was static test-fired several times with at least one failure at the Static test center in the region. The damage to the facility was quickly repaired and the testing was quickly renewed successfully. They also erected a large “Atlas ” like gantry over that static test firing center test cell for the stages servicing.
Propellant Loading Constraints
The reported ten propellant and gases loading trucks, later reported as forty, arrived on site as of June 15-17, 2006. The launch vehicle propellant loading was suggested as having been completed during the June 17-18, 2006 period. At least eight to thirty six of those tractor truck tanker vehicles are evenly divided between highly toxic, corrosive, hypergolic UDMH (Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine) and IRFNA (Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid) propellants while the other two to four tanker trucks are presumably the high pressure nitrogen and helium gas tankers. Launch vehicle propellant loading should take about twelve hours or so with the underground reservoirs storage tanks being filled first. Those tanks would have the capability to maintain both the properly cooled temperatures as well as regularly stirring those storable propellants to prevent them from breaking down chemically which could start to occur with in a month if they remain undisturbed. Those tanks and their plumbing pumps systems are used to load the propellants into the launch vehicle and top off the tanks just prior to launch for final launch preparation. The tanker trucks individually also have this propellant maintenance capability. Subsequently, South Korean NIS (National Intelligence Service) sources indicated 40 tanker trucks for less than 15 tons kerosene and 45 tons oxidizing agent to equal 65 tons of propellant (though only between 50 and 60 tons appeared available) for the booster and top off storage tanks and facility gantry umbilical tower plumbing lines near the pad. This however begs the question of whether all the DPRK ’s propellant tanker trucks have had to be requisitioned to this national effort. In any case, this is correct except that the NIS is probably wrong on the required propellant mass versus the volume capacity of the tanker trucks. In fact the propellants are different as expected from what the NIS of South Korea thinks for this new launch vehicle which explains the mass, volume discrepancy. It is clear from this that the South Koreans are not getting all the all source information available to the US.
The Unknown Propellant Loading Question
The unknown question is however whether the underground tanks were filled first for launch vehicle loading (which is the normal safety practice) or whether the propellant was pumped directly onboard the launch vehicle from the series of four to eighteen fuel and four to eighteen oxidizer tanker trucks? These tankers would be arranged in series parallel plumbing groups of four to eighteen on two different sides of the launch pad to isolate the fuel and oxidizer from one another. Both would be run as separate operations at different times. This kind of arrangement is used for the loading operation for either the underground tanks filling or the direct loading of the booster tanks. It would be an arrangement for example much like the tanker arrangements seen in Cuba during the missile crisis in October 1962. Launch time is probably less than twenty four to fourth eight hours away our time in the US based on this phase of the operation if the propellants have been loaded on the launch vehicle which remains highly questionable and improbable
Range Launch Weather Launch Vehicle Constraints
That is unless something else like weather and tight launch window requirements prevents the launch. It was in fact learned on Monday June 19, that high altitude winds and cloudy rainy weather had apparently forced a hold in the launch attempt through most of Wednesday the June 21, 2006. Subsequent reports have indicated that the bad weather may extend to the end of the week. This tends to suggest that the earliest opportunity for a launch is Thursday June 22, through the following weekend. By late on June 22, it was clear that the rainy season had moved in early and was expected to remain solid for over ten days with little let up expected. This brings into question whether this launch will take place any time soon because time would be needed for the ground systems to dry out. Also of interest would be the state of the tanker propellant through the middle of next month. This whole launch infrastructure will rapidly become a soggy mud strewn mess in short order unless the weather some how clears up soon with only occasional breaks in the clouds. This may force the political and program military and engineering leadership to scrub this launch until much later this year. In fact the launch was admitted to have been delayed several days due to the weather. Late on the evening of June 23, it was reported according to DoD military sources that weather conditions over the North Korean launch site were improving with the high altitude winds subsiding clearing the way for a possible launch over the weekend. By Saturday morning June 24, the forecast was for the weather to finally clear Saturday evening, North Korean time. This meant that the soonest the launch preparation activity could resume is some time on Sunday June 25, 2006. No launch as expected took place on the June 25. However, the DPRK weather forecast continues to show inclement weather for the launch area for many days to come. It also must be assumed that several day of drying may be required in order to resume the testing preparation operations at the launch site. It became apparent on Monday June 26, that the weather over the launch site is forecast to finally become clear late Tuesday North Korean time with it being sunny on Wednesday and partly cloudy on Thursday of this week. Whether this will prove to be the launch window is anybodies guess assuming that the launch campaign has not been called off for other reasons. Although the weather is clear over the launch infrastructure on Wednesday June 28, North Korean time by Thursday afternoon the weather is expected to deter ate into showers through next weekend. Through Wednesday June 28, 2006 the weather over the launch site was clear with it being cloudy or partly cloudy on the June 29 but starting Friday June 30 wind and showers are predicted through Tuesday July 4 th. No flight test is suggested to have occurred and the facility missile readiness status quo remains as it has been all week. Friday June 30, 2006 revealed that the launch site is expected to be clear and sunny on Sunday July 2, and partly cloudy Tuesday July 4 with it only being partly cloudy on the following Saturday and mostly cloudy the following Sunday with all other days bringing showers. The rainy season has definitely settled into the launch site region.
This also says a lot about the operational constraints of the launch vehicle which appear to be much weaker than normal for “on demand launch requirements ” regardless of the weather for strategic ballistic missiles. Further, strategic ballistic missiles normally use solid propellant but the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 is nearly all liquid propellant. This would beyond any reasonable doubt indicate a space booster satellite launch and not a strategic ballistic missile launch in the indirect sense. This is certainly no land based mobile or silo based strategic missile given that the launch facility is above ground and that the booster, characteristic of a satellite launch vehicle, is entirely too big to be made mobile.
More Propellant Loading Explanations
When the completion of the propellants loading operation is done this launch is essentially committed to flight for all practical purposes because reversing the operations to drain the tanks and lines and clean them of the very toxic corrosive propellants is a very dangerous arduous process. Exposing the booster tanks, propellant lines and engines to these propellants for long periods can be dangerously destructive unless the proper materials and seals are used extensively through out the systems. If the tanks were indeed loaded with propellants over the early weekend then the two day limit without stirring then has past with no launch expected on June 19th according to Japanese official ’s reports. Subsequently no launch has occurred between the 20th, through the June 30. A simple process of running nitrogen and helium gases through from the base of the propellant tanks can in fact stir the propellants enough to both maintain the temperature and chemical make up for many month ultimately venting the gas out through the tank vents.
However, a Bush administration official has indicated that US intelligence was of the opinion that by Monday the 19th of June, the propellants had been fully loaded on the three-stage booster with some reports suggesting a June 20th Asian time launch attempt. Again, the launch expectations for the 20th have proven to be premature. If the propellant tanker trucks have now been moved from the launch pad area and parked else where in the total launch infrastructure then it can be assumed that the propellants have indeed probably been loaded into the booster. On the 20th, according to the Japanese and South Korean reports, the forty tankers had remained in place around the launch pad through the weekend and were still there on the 19th. This indicates the propellant loading of the launch vehicle has not been completed and has perhaps not even started since only the withdrawal of the tankers from the area would confirm that the launch vehicle is fully loaded to go or that dismantling operations were about to commence. Certainly by late on the 20th and the 21st, no dismantling operations had been reported and none have been observed through June 30, 2006.
Improbable Propellant Loading Operation
This brings into serious question whether the launch vehicle tanks were indeed fully loaded with propellants, if at all, in the early part of the weekend. The propellants are normally loaded with inhibitors and the exposed surfaces in the lines, tanks and pumps are also lined with protective coating that can last quite a while in a storage state. In point of fact the propellants could be loaded on board the missile and remain there for years. This then would seen to indicate just how advanced the North Korean propellant storage technologies are for this launch vehicle and its supporting infrastructure. At this juncture, there are clearly some unknowns on the fueling that only time will resolve the answers to through intelligence analysis sources and methods. Subsequently administration personnel have admitted on June 21, 2006 that the intelligence is inconclusive as to whether the North Korean military technicians have loaded any propellant into the launch vehicle. It could also indicate that the engineers and technicians are still running the electronic demonstration countdown and non destructive testing before a weather clearance is given to proceed with fuel loading operations. This would almost certainly be preceded by the political State Commission approving and clearing the launch preparation operations for the ultimate launch. Not until then would this mission become real. With the propellant tankers remaining in place can only mean no propellant has been loaded into the booster stages. This leaves the only certainty that the new three stage launch vehicle has been assembled on the pad and that testing appears as expected to be on going perhaps leading to a flight eventually with in the next few months.
President Bush in a White House, East room news conference with the out going Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on June 29, said that “We both agree that it’s very important for us to remain united in sending a clear message to the North Korean leader, first of all, launching the missile is unacceptable. There have been no briefings as to what’s on top of the missile. They haven’t told anybody where the missile’s going. He has an obligation; it seems to me and the prime minister, that there be a full briefing to those of us who are concerned about it to see what his intentions are.” They were affectively requesting a full briefing by the North Koreans on their intentions.
This profound difference in the internationally accepted norms of conduct by the DPRK and the lack of reliable answers to two critical policy questions remains a serious issue to the world community and its leadership.
Tuesday June 27 th brought initial news that there was evidence that the North Koreans had finished the propellant loading of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 launch vehicle and by inference the tanker trucks had been removed from the pad area. This would prove later in the day to be totally wrong.
Later in the afternoon June 27, 2006 Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican, discussed some aspects of the closed door classified and open source briefing the committee had just received from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Missile Defense Agency. He stated that “The Satellite imagery would suggest that a North Korean missile launch does not appear to be imminent.” This would imply that certain critical steps leading to a launch had not been observed as having been completed yet and that the launch was deemed to be not immediately expected. He went on to further say that “ There are certain steps that would have to be taken if it were to be launched imminently,". “Those steps have not yet taken place”. By example he stated, “You have got to remove certain infrastructure that is obviously in the pictures - which are public - before that missile can be launched. That takes time." He further reiterated that “It is unclear whether the launch vehicle had been fully fueled (if at all)”. This indicates at least through June 27, 2006 that the propellant tanker trucks have not been removed from the launch pad area and that the launch vehicles gantry umbilical tower retractable and movable by rotation service levels have not been folded back to reveal the full launch vehicle it final configuration in preparation for launch. Only when those tanker trucks and the service levels are moved will this launch appear to be imminent. Senator Warner further stated that “It is not clear what North Korea 's intentions are and that the North Koreans could be preparing to launch a satellite, a weather satellite or a dummy warhead to test the boosters”. The indication that the satellite could be a Weather related satellite in stead of a Communication satellite (COMSAT) is a new suggested on the potential payload for this booster. This was followed by his reiterating the comments of President Bush that North Korea must define what the payload is on top of the three stage launch vehicle as well as their intentions to the world. Although the weather is clear over the launch infrastructure on Wednesday June 28, 2006 North Korean time by Thursday afternoon the weather is expected to deteriorate into showers through next weekend.
On Monday June 26 th President Bush reiterated in discussion with the Washington, White House Press Core in the Roosevelt room that “The North Koreans should notify the world of their intentions, and what they have on top of that vehicle” in addition to listening to warnings from the nations of the world, especially the Six-Party nations, not to test launch that launch vehicle. He reiterated that he did not know what was on top of the three stage launch vehicle.
Friday June 23rd, brought news that the US as well as South Korea had not monitored or observed any new launch preparation activity over the previous four days due to weather delays. However, both the US and South Korea continued to characterize what has been studied as indicating that a launch was anticipated at some point. Further, it was learned that the tanker trucks had still not been cleared away from the launch pad area. This strongly indicates that no propellant loading had yet taken place in spite of judgments to the contrary. Removal of all this equipment would have to happen before any launch could take place. Additionally, Chairman Kim Jong-Il of North Korea is expected to drag this mini satellite booster launch missile crisis out to milk it for what it is worth to his regime.
The US early on June 23rd, continued to characterize the North Korean preparation effort as “very serious ” without being able to identify what the payload is under the nose cone so as to know what the DPRK intentions are and whether this is “just an exercise ” that is ground missile systems integration and facilities systems test. The South Koreans have apparently had suggested to them indirectly by the DPRK that the “launch is a civilian experimental to put a satellite into orbit ” but when would depend on when they are ready. South Korea ’s National Intelligence Service continues to indicate no detection of ongoing launch vehicle preparation as a result of continuing deteriorated weather condition over the launch infrastructure in the last five days. The hold-up has been due to both weather and payload servicing preparation which was apparently completed on the 19th. It should be remembered that world practices have been to do end-to-end systems testing before launching a new launch vehicle. This can go on for many months before a launch is made. Until that electronic demonstration countdown is successfully completed, this analyst would not expect the launch vehicle to be loaded with propellant. The expected possible orbital test launch of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 was predicted for as early as Sunday or Monday Asian time May 18th or 19th, 2006 or during the following weeks according to published reports. The morning of the 19th of June 2006 shown no launch attempt and none is expected on the 19th or the 20th, 21st, 22nd, through 30th of June. The fact that no satellite launch took place on the 18th of June through the 30th of June 2006 according to reported Japanese officials ’ remarks suggest both that the propellants have not been loaded or that some political policy or technical or weather or tight launch window-related constraints have interrupted the final launch operations for an unknown amount of time. At least one report on the 19th suggests a Wednesday afternoon June 21 daytime launch from North Korea Hamgyong province, Musudan-ri [Moosan-rhee] (No-dong-A/Taep’o-dong) launch site. Other subsequent reports on the 20th imply it was a few days to months away.
DPRK Policy Driver
Based on the observed trends, the North Korea regime is clearly determined to use its medium and long range strategic launch vehicles and the associated weapons systems they carry as an instrument of State Policy. This leaves little room to hope that North Korea ’s authoritarian leadership under Chairman Kim Jong-Il will change its end-game internal legitimization survival plans to suit the world ’s desires. This says a very great deal about North Korean strategic and proliferation intentions. The world and especially Pacific Rim countries desire a more normal negotiated economic relationship done by international standards norms absent the threat of nukes and missiles activity. The single act of launching an ICBM as a space booster would certainly deeply isolate the paranoid hermit Stalinist kingdom country further from the rest of the world. The international community has continued to warn the DPRK to avoid pursuing such a course of action. To date, it would appear that the DPRK is not listening and has paid little attention to such warnings. Chairman Kim Jong-Il's regime is attempting to force its agenda on the world through the creation of this second satellite booster launch crisis which is unlikely to be accepted by the world community. It must be understood that the only possible justification for this space booster is an ICBM with the capability for both North Korea and Iran to launch nuclear warheads at the United States. This is presumably because of its driving internal political issues. It is presumed that the North Korean military is pushing for this flight to orbit to take place in addition to potential Iranian customer contributor desires. North Korea suggested on June 18, 2006 that its people should raise the North Korean (DPRK) flag and stay tuned to their radio ’s and TV ’s for an announcement from the State media around 5:00 GMT perhaps related to the up coming launch vehicle flight. Ultimately nothing appeared that was directly associated with the expected attempted launch except for a message strongly reiterating North Korea's attempt to continue to emphasize its strategic nuclear deterrents as the limited backbone of State Policy.
DPRK State Policy
Then on June 20, 2006 North Korea restated its past policy statements that “North Korea as a sovereign State has the full autonomy right to develop, deploy, test fire and export its missiles, ” i.e. to conduct ballistic missile and space booster launches and tests and that other outsider nations have no right to criticize or, by inference, interfere with its plans. They reaffirmed the March 2005 statement with the statement that North Korea “was no longer bound by its self-imposed missile test moratorium since the US and the DPRK are no longer talking directly to one another ”. North Korean then went on to suggest that if there are any issues with its policy, the US should seek to resolve them through direct talks on this and other strategic systems questions. For years now, the DPRK has attempted to avoid the six-nation-party talks on its nuclear programs in favor of direct talks with the US; a position which the present US administration has consistently rejected.
What is interesting is the statement released by the DPRK on June 20, 2006 with North Korea espousing the Chinese space policy harangue of the “ US missile defense as fueling a dangerous arms race in space ”. This whole drama for the West ’s intelligence community and politician’s entertainment of the impending flight test and its forty tank trucks could draw out for weeks leading to no launch for quite a while. This would prolong the diplomatic horse trading on the missile flight testing and moratorium extension in addition to the nuclear program issues. Meanwhile the DPRK continues to press its policy agenda to no avail. This to a degree perhaps intentionally on North Korea ’s part taking the pressure off the Iranians to buy them time for a while. That also brings up the question of the role of Iran and China in the development of the Taep’o-dong- 2 launch vehicle series. Iran certainly has a committed effort to this program for its own agenda.
This three stage launch vehicle test launch characteristics presumably will probably exhibit that it has the capability to travel between 8,000 and 12,000 kilometers with a 650 kilogram nuclear payload. If the payload was in the 250 kilogram range its capability would be somewhat short of 15,000 kilometer range but that is not expected for some years to go. North Korea as well as Iran is presumed to have both 1,000 kg and 650 kilogram first and second generation nuclear weapons designs one of which whose design apparently circumstantially may have been tested in Pakistan ’s second nuclear test. If there are any questions as to the viability of the mass reduced size of these first and second generation nuclear weapons and solid propellant missile technology one only needs to remind ones self that all of these technologies were transferred initially from China to A. Q. Khan of Pakistan who perfected them for Pakistan who in turn transferred the design secrets of the technology for the production of these weapons to the North Korean and Iran years ago. While Pakistan did get the liquid propellant missile technology from North Korea as did also Iran, the Solid Propellant missile technology came in via both China and South Africa to Pakistan and Iran.
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