May 2006 Build-up to Taep'o-dong-2C/3 Satellite Launch.
06-17-06, Updated 06-18-06
By © C. P. Vick, All Rights Reserved 2006
Based on the observed trends North Korea is clearly determined to use its launch vehicles and the associated weapons systems they carry as the instrument of State Policy leaving little room to hope that North Korea's leadership will change its end game plans to the world's desires. North Korea suggested on the 18th 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. 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 17th, 2006 out of Iran for both North Korea and Iran. For further information 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 following information
This January 17th, 2006 test firing of the No-dong-B confirmed the ended 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. The highly successful No-dong-B operational deployed test flight successfully demonstrated the performance of the totally redesigned Taep'o-dong-2C/3 second stage as well as the common propulsion system used in the first stage different from the Taep'o-dong-2 original conceptual satellite space booster, intercontinental ballistic missile launch vehicle design. In retrospect this appears to have been the real purpose of the North Korean so called self-imposed testing moratorium to buy time to develop this better design performance launch vehicle with no intentions of doing otherwise.
The expected probable orbital test launch of the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 is 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 earliest published reports on the suggestion that North Korea may flight test it new larger Taep'o-dong-2, 3 class booster were around May 19th. 2006. North Korea is notorious for deploying early development weapons system in the field like the former Soviet Union to work the problems as was observed for the No-dong-B deployment in 2003, 2004 before flight testing it as an operational system. Such confidence in weapons systems performance reliability can only be based on a through ground testing regime but by Western standards this is a very different way of doing such business.
Apparently a open source Japanese commercial ground station for an American earth imagery commercial satellite (digital Globe or GOI) as early as May 6th, or 11th, 2006 caught the North Korean missile teams arrival with its road mobile booster stages and payload tarp covered transport trailers and tractor truck in the vicinity of the MIK horizontal assembly ready testing building near the North Korean Taep'o-dong-2C/3 Musudan-ri launch site.
By May 17th the signs of the initial vehicles personnel activity seemed to have disappeared except for the two trucks one near the assembly building and one parked near the two parked erectors on the No-dong-A 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 pad that can accommodate the 2.2 meter diameter booster first stage.
This is probably when the so called fall away equipment test was observed by intelligence sources and methods. This 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 personnel would also carry out propellant tank pressurization and the feed lines umbilical test to check their integrity before propellant loading. These tests are among many basic kinds of quality control test done before a launch. This all would have been preceded by total systems integration electronic testing earlier in the weeks.
Based on open press reports the intelligence operations have been carried out by a US and Japanese and South Korean allied assets such as the three to six available USAF, U-2 spy plane or space based KH-12 observation and HUMINT sources and methods assets. SIGINT monitoring has been reported via ship based and RC-135 aircraft among others known. SIGINT has clearly been picking up the testing as it is conducted otherwise these press reports would not be appearing as they have. The ship based and mobile land based SIGINT, RADINT assets have been based there in Japan and South Korea for some years now. Japan has deployed two Aegis destroyers in the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan according to published reports.
The square dolly observed outside the MIK horizontal assemble ready building was for the encapsulated satellite fairing payload and third stage payload which were hoisted and stacked by the gantry umbilical tower crane. It remains unclear whether the satellite payload has 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 the military technicians continuing 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.
The ten propellant and gases loading trucks arrived on site as of June 16th. The launch vehicle propellant loading was apparently completed during the June 17th. and 18th. 2006. At least eight of those truck tractor towed tanker vehicles are evenly divided between highly toxic, corrosive, hypergolic UDMH and IRFNA propellants while the other two tanker trucks are presumably the liquid nitrogen and liquid helium gas tankers. Launch vehicle propellant loading should have taken twelve hours or so with underground tanks storage reservoirs also being filled. They are used to top off the tanks for the final launch preparation. Launch time is probably less than twenty four hours away our time in the US based on this operation. With the completion of the propellants loading operation this launch is essentially committed to flight for all practical purposes because reversing the operations is a very dangerous arduous process. Exposing the boosters tanks propellant lines and engines to these propellant for long periods can be destructive unless the proper materials and seals are used extensively through out the systems.
The May 24th images confirmed the long expected introduction of the environmental curtains added to the gantry service levels totally enclosing the vehicle on the pad from view from the top of the gantry to the bottom pad area. In all previous imagery the gantry twelve service levels were plainly visible with no identifiable curtains.
Several years ago when North Korea opened a 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 in the future. This satellite is assumed top be the payload of this first attempted Taep'o-dong-2C/3 launch. This test launch characteristic presumably will probably show that this booster has the capability to travel between 8,000 and 12,000 kilometers with a 650 kilogram nuclear payload. It the payload was in the 250 kilogram range its capability would be in the 15,000 kilometer range but that is not expected for some years to go.
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