UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Unha-3, Not Unha-9 Experimental Flight 2016

The Unha-3 Space Launch Vehicle in this next Five Year Plan As Anticipated

©By C. P. Vick, 2015/2016

Senior Technical & Space Policy Analyst


9-15-30/10-7-2015/1-27/ 2-20-2016

Unha-1, Unha-2 and Unha-3 Flight Test Record

Flight Date Success/Failure
1. Flight Test (0) 08-31-98 Unha-1 Partial success/Failure de orbited satellite
2. Flight Test (1) 07-05-06 Unha-2 Failure
3. Flight Test (2) 04-05-09 Unha-2 Failure
4. Flight Test (3) 04-13-12 Unha-3 Failure - Admitted by DPRK
5. Flight Test (4) 12-12-12 Unha-3 Successful orbiting of satellite demonstration
6. Flight Test (5) 02-07-16 Unha-3 Successful orbiting of satellite demonstration

February 7-9, 2017 Launch Day Report

Like clock work precision the launch took place on the opening day of February 7, 2016 with liftoff at 9:30 AM South Korean time or 9:00 AM Pyongyang time. The launch was first detected by the South Korean Navy, Aegis Destroyer radar from liftoff that followed it through most of its powered flight. Kim Jong Un observed the launch from the guest launch observation facility on the Sohae Satellite Launch infrastructure that he had ordered to take place. Two minutes or so later at 9:32 AM the first stage had separated from the boosters second stage fire in the hole ignition. Soon after separation the first stage was deliberately destroyed as visually covered by radars into at least 270 identified pieces. The destruction of the first stage after staging was intentional to thwart intelligence technology assessment efforts already accomplished previously. About four minutes later the radar coverage of the launch was lost for unknown reasons even though the launch was proceeding as expected. The radar short coming is being scrutinized. That loss of the radar imaging had suggested that the launch had failed but this was apparently a misinterpretation of the events. On or about the same time the payload nose fairing shroud was visually seen impacting the Sea southwest of the South Korean Island of Jeju according to the South Korean JCS. The launch was essentially matching the previous Unha-3 launch parameters. The launch apparently took about 10 minutes to make it to orbit successfully although it will take about 11 hours to know if the satellite is working properly and thus if the launch was totally successful. The "Kwangmyongsong-4" satellite of approximately 200 kilogram entered its preset orbit at 09:09:46, 9 minutes and 46 seconds after the lift-off. The satellite is orbiting in a polar orbit at 494.6 km perigee altitude and 500 km apogee altitude at the angle of inclination of 97.4 degrees. Its period is 94 minutes and 24 seconds. However subsequent monitoring of the potential radio frequencies has not confirmed "Kwangmyongsong-4" satellite transmissions. The possibility of a rapid fast store dump and receive communication over the DPRK during the daily four short passes is conceivable.

US Strategic Command (NORAD) Reports

The US Strategic Command (NORAD) detected the launch soon after liftoff and followed it to the point that it was presumed to have achieved orbit. The initial Norad parameters were a 465 kilometers by 501 kilometer orbit at 97.5 degrees. This is possible through US satellite early warning sensors on various satellite that tracked it from start up to orbital insertion. The USSTRATCOM has determined that the booster used was the same Unha-3 booster seen in 2012 and not the advanced Unha-9 booster anticipated that is in development. This was defined from close observation of the launch vehicle performance parameters and later from launch vehicle imagery released by the DPRK. It means that Kim Jong Un last fall 2015 decided to go with the updated standard production Unha-3 booster for this politically required experimental satellite launch since the Unha-9 booster was not ready in time for the demonstration demanded by the DPRK State leadership.

Range Performance and Systems Heritage

The Unha-9 booster is now credited with having a potential range on the order of 10,000 kilometers with a 250 kilogram ballistic payload while South Korea says it has 12,000 kilometer capability with a 200 kilogram ballistic payload verses the Unha-3 booster 9,000 kilometer performance with a possible 270 kilogram ballistic payload. These theoretical 200-250-270 kilogram warhead masses are far below the existing missiles design warhead mass of 650 kilograms specification built into their design and represent just how far the DPRK is from achieving that potential nuclear range threat intent.

A actual nuclear device warhead design specification calls for a weigh mass of 650 kilograms greatly reducing the Unha-3 performance range. That warhead design with its 650 kilogram mass is the same configuration seen on the No-dong-A', KN-06(?), and KH-07 and KN-11 the No-dong-B, B' (two different length variants) variants of the SS-N-6, Zyb, RSM-25 of the Makeyev OKB of the Russian Federation as well as that utilized by the KN-08 Block-II stretched design of the Russian Federation Sawfly, R-29, RSM-40, SS-N-8, Vysota LRICBM derivation also of the Makeyev OKB of the Russian Federation displayed during October 2015 in Pyongyang.

Satellite Status Remain Uncertain

Well over 11 hours after the orbital insertion of the "Kwangmyongsong-4" satellite has been observed by US Department of Defense as stable in its orbit after initially drift tumbling after separation from the last stage of the Unha-3 booster while its solar arrays deployed but not transmitting signals for its earth observation imaging mission so far. The fact that by the February 10, 2016 it had stabilized according to the US Department of Defense indicating some kind of communications whether on board or from ground communications command had acted on the spacecrafts to successfully stabilize it soon after orbital insertion. Public published reports suggesting it was unstable in its position in orbit are therefore unfounded to the operational reality. So far no transmissions have been identified as of this writing. Although subsequent reports seem to indicate renewed satellite tumbling they remain officially unsubstantiated.

Successful Launch Reveal the Public Policy Desires

With this successful launch the DPRK leader Kim Jong Un at the gala dinner stated that "The advance toward space, the motive force of science and technology of the future and economic development, is the DPRK's strategic goal," and that further he was quoted by the KCNA as saying "pushing forward space development according to the five-year plan for national space development," stressing the need to gain international trust and seek cooperation in space development. He emphasized he wanted more satellite launches.

Post Flight Recovery Operations

Post flight recovery operations as of February 20th were completed by the South Korean Defense Ministry, Navy recovery ship for, National Intelligence Service support utilizing an under sea Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) operations. They did recover the second plain inter stage between the Unha-3 first and second stages. They also recovered one damaged partial thrust chamber and a engine turbo-pump about 105 kilometers off Ochung Island. Additionally the payload shroud two halves were recovered almost totally intact some 740 or so kilometers down range. The payload shroud has a great resemblance to the Iranian Safir payload shroud details. No further recovery operations as of February 20, 2016 have been carries out because the over 270 pieces of debris are very small and widely scattered. The hardware recovery operations have between the December 2012 and February 2016 launch events have recovered almost a complete first stage and it inter stage as well as the payload shroud of the Unha-3 booster.

Launch Vehicle Flight Performance Parameters From DPRK Mission Control:

  Burn Time Sec . Flight Time Sec.  
First Stage 120 + Start up ~ 2-4 120  
Second Stage Advanced Scud-B/ER design variant 190-200 120-320  
Third Stage 260 567-280  
Payload Separation   580-586  
Total Flight Time Seconds   586  
  Altitude Kilometers Range Kilometers Velocity Meters/Sec .
First Stage 50 0-45 1,900-1,950
Second Stage 50-320   3,975-4,000
Third Stage 320-420/500 Plain change from 88.7 degrees to 97.4 degrees burn 7,600-7,700-7,750
Payload NA   7,700
  Isp Seconds Orbit Parameters degrees Orbit Parameters kilometers/Period
First Stage 230 SL, 264 Vac. NA  
Second plain inter-stage NA NA  
Second Stage 264 Vac. NA  
Third Stage 264 vac. 97.4 degrees 501-465
Payload Orbit ~100 kilograms (2012), <200 kilograms (2016)? 97.4 degrees 500-494.6 / 94 minutes 24 sec.
Booster Stages Propellants No-Dong-A same Fuel Oxidizer  
First Stage TM-185 ***
20% Gasoline, 80% Kerosene
27% N2O4 + 73% HNO3 with Iodium inhibitor Nitrogen Tetroxide & inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid=~48 tons
Second Stage TM-185 ***
20% Gasoline, 80% Kerosene
27% N2O4 + 73% HNO3 with Iodium inhibitor Nitrogen Tetroxide & inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid
Third Stage TM-185 ***
20% Gasoline, 80% Kerosene
27% N2O4 + 73% HNO3 with Iodium inhibitor Nitrogen Tetroxide & inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid
Launch Vehicle Parameters      
Launch Thrust Unha-3-1&2 100-104 tons using vanes Unha-3 mod number 4 = 120 Tons with four 3 ton thrust steering vernier's  
Launch Mass 90 Tons 91 Tons  
Unha-3 booster height with payload ~30 meters 30.8 meters  
  Stage Diameter meters Estimated Stage Length meters estimate  
First Stage 2.48 ~15 +  
Second plain Inter-stage 2.48 – 1.5 ~2.1  
Second Stage 1.5 ~9.3  
Third Stage 1.25 ~ 3.7  
Shroud/Payload >1.25 ~2  
Ballistic Range Performance   10,000= UNHA-3  

** Based on comparative Russian data and rocket equations derived analysis results.
*** Known propellant performance and details.
SL - Sea Level, Vac. Vacuum, Isp. Specific Impulse
3. Due to vanes steering drag, Loss of 4-5 sec. replaced by four steering vernier's thrust chambers
4. Losses at altitude amounting to perhaps 3-4 sec. vac.

The North KoreanTaep-o-dong-2B/Unha-3 revised booster that sports a new liquid propellant third stage apparently derived from Unha-1 booster design and No-dong-B vernier propulsion engine.

February 6, 2016 Report Weather Launch Impact Schedule

On the morning of February 6, 2016 the rescheduling of the launch to occur from its original February 8 through February 25, 2016 window to between February 7 through February 14, 2016 was announced as the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU) and the (IMO) International Maritime Organization were informed indicating just how fast the largely automated operations were moving to an early launch to meet the desired political State schedule and range weather requirements. In all probability the future post February 7-14, 2016 Sohae Satellite Launch infrastructure range weather report dictated the move in the launch schedule because both cloud cover and rain were predicted to follow the first launch day. If the propellant loaded launch vehicle with its highly toxic, corrosive, hypergolic so called storable propellant would have in part limited the launch options stay time. The propellants carry their inhibitors as previously identified to preserve the time required for recycling the launch requirements but they to have their limits. After a certain point approximately two weeks the launch vehicle has to be drained of propellants and be washed down then unassembled and returned to the factory for recycling refurbishment for future use.

February 5, 2016 Report

Early on February 5, 2016 the day long booster stages propellant loading was in progress as noted in the intelligence monitoring operations.

February 4, 2016 Report

By February 4, 2016 it was apparent that the facilities infrastructure preparation was in high gear for an early expected launch. This must have included the toping off of the propellant and high pressure gas storage tanks on the infrastructure based on the intelligence being monitored.

February 2-3, 2016 Report

DPRK Post and Telecommunications Minister Kim Kwand Chol announced through diplomatic channels on February 1, 2016 that it planned to launch a Kwangmyongsong (Bright Star) Earth Observation type satellite during the daily window of 7 AM and 12 PM noon (Pyongyang time which is 30 minutes behind global time settings) between February 8, and 25, 2016 with a four year operational satellite design life from its northwestern, Pyongan Province, Dong-chang-ri, Sohae Satellite Launch site. On or primarily before February 16, 2016 the birthday of the late Kim Jong-Il is when the launch was actually expected.

Notification was given to the UN Agencies, the (IMO) International Maritime Organization and the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU) as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of it plan. This confirms that the beginning of this Five Year Plan launch in its first quarter of 2016 has been moved or accelerated forward by about a month from decisions made in the fall of 2015 which included the nuclear test conducted before this successful launch.

The (IMO) International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was provided with the coordinates of the impact, no fly zones during the launch period. The International Telecommunications Union, (ITU) did not receive the satellites operational; telemetry communications frequencies which it is now asking the DPRK to provide for the "Master International Frequency Register (MIFR).

The previously successful Kwangmyongsong (Bright Star) satellite launch is not transmitting in its 500 kilometer orbit in spite of the DPRK suggestions to the contrary. That satellite is believed to have lost power just days after orbital insertion suggesting that its solar arrays did not open properly. This next satellite of that series is expected to be an improved version of that family design heritage.

The North Korean "Kwangmyongsong-4" satellite of approximately 200 kilogram Unha-3 revised booster payload.


At the request of the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the information contained in the annex on the launch of an earth observation satellite "Kwangmyongsong", detailing the reserved launch date and time and falling area coordinates, is brought to the attention of Member Governments and international organizations.

Information on the launch of earth observation satellite"Kwangmvonasong-4"
1, Satellite launch state: Democratic People's Republic of Korea
2 Launch schedule:
Reserved date: 8 - 25 February 2016 changed to 7-14 February 2016
Time: 07:00 - 12:00 ( Pyongyang time) daily
3. Falling area coordinates
— First, stage
36 ° 04' N 124 ° 30' E
36 ° 04' N 124 ° 54' E
35 ° 19' N 124 ° 30' E
35 ° 19' N 124 ° 54' E
— Fairing
33 ° 16' N 124 ° 11' E
33 ° 16' N 125 ° 09' E
32 ° 22' N 124 ° 11' E
32 ° 21' N 125 ° 08' E
.... Second stage
19 ° 44' N 123 ° 53' E
19 ° 43' N 124 ° 51' N
17 ° 01' N 123 ° 52' E
17 ° 00' N 124 ° 48' E
Last third stage and satellite went into earth orbit. The first stage impact off the west coast of South Korea into the Yellow Sea but was explosively broken up midair after staging into over 270 pieces intentionally spreading them over a wide impact area. While the payload fairing nose shroud impacted some 740 kilometers down range southwest of the South Korean island of Jeju in the East China Sea. The remaining broken up second stage impact off the east coast of the Philippines’ Luzon Island in the Philippine Sea about 2,360 kilometers down range as the third stage powers itself and the satellite payload into polar earth orbit. The third stage is expected to eventually de-orbit. CPV

Japan and other countries have been on the alert over signs that Pyongyang may be preparing for a missile launch. A spokesperson in IMO for said the North Korean government gave the notification about the "earth observation satellite" on 02 February 2016.

The IMO is in charge of ensuring the safety of vessel navigation. The spokesperson says it will announce details, including the planned trajectory, after the organization has informed its member countries. The International Telecommunication Union also says it had been given notice of the launch plan. It says the message was passed on by North Korea's delegation to the UN in Geneva. ITU officials say they will ask for additional information as North Korea has failed to provide details about the timing of the launch, the planned orbit of the satellite and its radio frequency.

January 27 - 30, 2016 Report

On the evening of January 27, 2016 the Japanese Kyodo News Agency announced that based on information conveyed from an unidentified Japanese government source to the effect that "in the past several days" intelligence imagery whether Satellite based and or UAV based had noticed a considerable "increase in steady activities" (site cleanup of snow as well as increase of personnel activities and truck based vehicles) on the Unha-3, Unha-9 launch site infrastructure in the DPRK northwestern, Pyongan Province, Dong-chang-ri Sohae Satellite Launch site. The original rumored launch expectation was that "a launch was within about a week at the earliest" or so according to the sources with nothing being further revealed. It was however later noted by South Korean Defense Ministry regular press briefing officers Kim Min-seok that no pre-launch announcement of a series of "no-sail or no fly zones" had been announced by the DPRK yet as of January 28, 2016 but that the situation was being continuously monitored. This indicates to the South Korean Defense Ministry that there is "no imminent launch" expected with the added knowledge that no rocket stages having been spotted on railroad based transporters to the launch infrastructure at that time. In fact it is now apparent that the DPRK was successful in bringing in the booster to the launch infrastructure without being detected and through night time activities transferred it from the arrival facility mobile vertical assembly building to the launch pad for final vertical stacking. Those three stages of the Unha-9 booster have to be transported from the Pyongyang factory infrastructure to the launch site which at that time was not evident. Additionally US officials stated that it was expected to be "a regular" experimental "space booster launch" flight as "there's nothing to indicate a ballistic missile related" test. This specific launch site is primarily designed for the Unha series space boosters operations. There is no indication of an expected KN-08 Block-II experimental ballistic missile (LRICBM) flight test at least at that time.

Cautious Analysis

This highly revised space launch infrastructure and its new facilities, procedures having just recently (as of last fall of 2015) been completed it would seem appropriate that some on site personnel training as a build up to the expected Unha-9 or Unha-3 experimental flight satellite launch could be expected. So the question is this ground facilities systems test vehicle being utilized or is it the actual experimental flight test vehicle being utilized in preparation for this expected first quarter 2016 launch as noted below? Whether the pacing has been pushed forward is yet to be established because based on previous experience of each Five Year Plan the launch pattern was probably set for the mid to latter part of the first quarter of 2016. Time will tell on this but the probability of an "abrupt launch" is certainly a probable stretch of the actual operational procedures. This is because the movement of the vertical mobile assembly building and the gantry umbilical tower configuration of its service levels will truly signal the immanent launch preparation operation as was subsequently observed by intelligence sources and methods.


Realizing that the new horizontal assembly support building with its associated mobile vertical assembly building is a part of the added launch pad infrastructure actually serves a purpose. This is as a consolidated launch vehicle clean facility for year round environmental control and final check out before being transferred to the launch pad for booster payload installation with its highly improved environmental clam shells service levels that continue that environmental control effort. Yes even Iran is doing this for its newer Simorgh-3 booster gantry infrastructure. The first experimental flight test of the 80 ton Simorgh-3 is planned for the first half of 2016. Whether it has been done to hide the payloads is in reality questionable which is more motivated by free world political policy agenda’s not that the DPRK does not deserve such suggestions. Realistically that is impractical to the operational reality. To install the booster’s first stage on the pad would require that the first stage be positioned vertical inside the mobile vertical transfer assembly building so it could be hoisted up through the roof hatch of that mobile building. Then the hoisting crane would transfer it to the actual pad for final launch pad instillation enclosed in its environmental clam shell. This same procedure would be utilized for the two upper stages and payload possible in full flight configuration or separately. There are simply no great surprises here on these operational procedures which are similar to world class operations.

Earlier Reporting

The DPRK will launch the potential longer full range ICBM with its higher payload capacity Unha-9 booster for it satellite launch on or about October 10, 2015 or by the end of this last quarter of this year 2015 of this Five Year Plan. Typically DPRK, SLV launches come during the beginning or middle of the existing Five Year Plan.

Based on the DPRK Five year plan pattern the next launch in the Unha Satellite Launch Vehicle series the (Unha-3 or Unha-9) is expected either during this last quarter of 2015 the end of this Five Year Plan 2011-2015 or in the beginning of the first quarter of the beginning of the next Five Year Plan 2016-2020.

Though on or about October 10, 2015 is probable too early in the Five Year Plan scheme of things planned by the DPRK State. To accelerate a SLV and satellite development effort that is essentially a new LV outside the Five Year Plan is fraught with potential failure issues suggesting serious caution on the DPRK State.

Launch preparation starts to move weeks in advance of the arrival of the flight hardware but once the flight hardware arrives on the Sohae launch infrastructure the pace markedly picks up takes seven to ten or twelve days to launch. With the booster and spacecraft in final development suggest they are not quite ready to commit to launch as suggested in press reporting. Through October 2, 2015 there were no indications of the start of launch preparation on the Sohae Satellite Launch infrastructure. Knowing this which would have required things to have Started on or about October 1, 2015 for an October 10, 2015 launch as well as no DPRK notification announcement to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) much less the (ICAO) International Civil Aviation Organization on any planned launch activity warnings merely confirms the previously noted reality.

It is the stretched version of the Unha-3 previously successfully flown on December 12, 2012 called Unha-9 that is expected. This experimental launch has perhaps been scheduled for the end of this DPRK Five Year Plan. It is one of three or four different LVs expected to be experimental flight tested in the next Five Year Plan. Presumably the launch will be several days before or well after the October 10, 2015, 70th birthday of the DPRK, ruling Workers’ Party celebration.

Unha-3 beside the Unha-9 space booster

The DPRK National Aerospace Development Administration Announcement

National Aerospace Development Administration director told the official [North] Korea Central News Agency that a new observation satellite is "in the final stage" of development. "The world will clearly see a series of satellites…soaring into the sky at a time and location determined by the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee," KCNA reported. The DPRK is accelerating the effort at the final stage of development of the Earth observation satellite. It also hailed it progress towards development of a geostationary satellite apparently their ultimate next Five Year Plan 2016-2020 goal that has been known. "Successful progress made in reconstructing and expanding the satellite launching grounds for higher-level satellite lift-off has laid a firm foundation for dynamically pushing ahead with the nation's development of space science," the official KCNA news agency quoted the director of the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) as saying.

Looking at this partial DPRK, NADA reconstructed announcement and noting the a aforementioned reality suggest that the DPRK was up to its usual psychological warfare tactics for Western knee jerk irritation and their entertainment. Yet in their strange usual way they have confirmed their expected plans for the end of this Five Year Plan and the next Five Year Plan goal.

Suggestions that the DPRK, NADA launch has been delayed due to international pressure on the regime have no basis in reality and clearly reflect the Western lack of understand how things work in that authoritarian DPRK regime.

Yes there were internal planning issues that drove the premature announcement of the intended launch at an unspecified time. In any case they are not afraid to launch the Unha-3 or Unha-9 booster in the winter time because of the updated infrastructure revisions. Yes the launch will be conducted once ready.

Restructured Launch Infrastructure

The restructured Launch Infrastructure has a new railroad access tunnel to give elevator access for the rocket stages inside a mobile vertical assembly building that sits next to a payload checkout testing building on the other end the pad. The launch pad beside the gantry umbilical towers remains rail mobile but has undergone modification to accommodate several diameter size boosters. This mobile vertical assembly building allows the entire first stage to be prepared vertically then rolled out to beside the pad. That first stage or presumably with the second and third stage together with the encapsulated satellite package can then be hoisted by the gantry umbilical tower crane from the top of the mobile vertical assembly building and then stacked on the pad for final launch preparation.

Note: The Unha-9 gantry umbilical tower has been erected even higher than this illustration shows

Unha-3 or Unha-9 & NK-SD-X future medium lift space booster gantry umbilical tower with its mobile vertical assembly building sitting along side

This mobile assembly building cut out prying eyes but also gives a better quality control environment for the payload and booster stages preparation. Why the DPRK did not develop a mobile launch pad to transport from a static full stack vertical assembly building to the pads gantry umbilical tower remains one of the unanswered question on this new infrastructures configuration. That gantry umbilical tower has had highly improved environmental encapsulation service platforms added to encase the launch vehicle and payload.

This is among many other overall improvements on the launch infrastructure completed in recent years. The entire railroad arrival siding has been enclosed by the shed like structure allowing for cutting out prying eyes from picking up on operations most of which would be night time military operations with day time operations being within the enclosed facilities. Both administrative and observation as well as imaging, telemetry receiving, radar observation facilities have been improved.

to continue:

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 23-02-2016 00:38:36 ZULU