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The Military Hardware Science

What Debris From North Korea's Rocket Launch Shows 223

Lasrick writes "David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists analyzes the debris from North Korea's December 11th Unha-3 launch. From the article: 'According to press reports, traces on the inner walls of the tank show that the first-stage oxidizer is a form of nitric acid called "red-fuming nitric acid," which is the standard oxidizer used in Scud-type missiles. There had been some speculation that this stage might instead use a more advanced fuel with nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) as the oxidizer. Since the Nodong engines believed to power the first stage are scaled-up Scud engines, the use of RNFA is not a surprise. There have also been claims that the stage uses a more advanced fuel called UDMH, but it appears instead to be the kerosene-based fuel used in Scuds. In his recent RAND study, Markus Schiller noted that a test Iraq performed using UDMH in a Scud engine gave poor performance, and that burning UDMH gives a transparent flame. The North Korean video of the launch instead shows an orange flame characteristic of Scud fuels (Figure 3 is an image from 12:44 into the video). These findings confirm that the stage is still Scud-level technology.'"
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What Debris From North Korea's Rocket Launch Shows

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  • by wmac1 ( 2478314 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @09:52AM (#42403223)

    All the ballistic missiles and rockets are German V2 scaled ups by your logic.

    N.K is now the 11th launch capable country ( [] ) and they deserve the credit. No analysis and humiliation could change the fact that a small country which has been under severe embargoes has succeeded in its technical (possibly military) ambitions.

    I was not expecting them to be able to put such a heavy satellite in 500km orbit. Iran has only been able to put a sub 50km satellite in a lower orbit.

  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <> on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:04AM (#42403305) Journal

    Of course, nobody mentions that the Gemini missions used storable propellants not unlike what the North Koreans are using. Now, it's true that Gemini was launched with Titan rockets, and Titans were originally designed as ICBMs, but they were used for civilian purposes as well.

    The more interesting part is that we recovered the missile parts. According to everything I read, the exact timing of the launch was somewhat of a surprise (maybe this isn't true) but nevertheless we managed to track the debris and fish it out of the ocean immediately. This tells the North Koreans that not only do they have no secrets, they never will have any.

    To me, the North Korean rocket looks a lot more like a satellite launcher than an ICBM. The first nuclear weapons that North Korea will deploy will be very heavy, and this rocket (as tapered as it is, and with such a small, low-powered third stage) just will not carry it. ICBMs are also designed to burn quickly, as they are vulnerable as long as they are in the atmosphere and burning. This rocket burns for many minutes, as satellite launchers do.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:18AM (#42403397)

    It matters: because only with the right technology you can actually launch a bomb across the ocean. Getting to orbit pretty much implies you can do it of course, the getting there part at least, analysing the technology further will let you know how well the thing was made (gives ideas on reliability and controllability), how much was imported and how much was their own work, etc. Being able to build such a rocket all by themselves means a greater threat than if everything is imported - imports can be blocked.

    Also it gives an idea on how advanced their technology really is, which in turn gives an idea on their overall capabilities. If they build advanced rockets, they likely build advanced versions of other weapons too. The article mentioned they used a light-weight titanium alloy for the tank, instead of steel - showing they have access to that alloy.

    The fuels used are also interesting. They use RFNA for oxidiser which can be stored at room temperature, making it not only easier to use as fuel in a rocket, it also makes it suitable as fuel for a missile which has to sit ready to launch for a long period of time. This may mean they are developing dual-use technology, it may also mean that they don't have the technology to use the more effient cryogenic fuels and have to simplify the design.

    Analysing their technology can also indicate how well they can control their rockets - important for both space launches and dropping bombs on target. It seems they manage control pretty well considering they actually got an object in orbit, which is quite a feat. The obvious next step would of course be an object that stays in orbit.

    No matter what, analysing the debris can tell you a lot. And that's why they're fishing up those debris parts now.

  • RNFA != RFNA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:21AM (#42403417)

    It's not just "chemistry" it's freakin' rocket fuel chemistry and acronyms matter lest ye blow up!

    Red Fuming Nitric Acid

    RFNA is some nasty stuff. Worse liquid propellant oxider ever? Chlorine TriFloride (ClF3). Eats and/or combusts with everything and anything , including service & test engineers.

  • Re:North Korea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CptPicard ( 680154 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:45AM (#42403601)

    I'm not all that certain that China will unconditionally prop them up. They already have quite a problem on their hands with NK that they are no longer ideologically interested, and that China's real interests in international trade and so on are just hurt by any overt support of NK.

    What China is interested in is that their border region with NK doesn't get flooded with refugees if NK suddenly implodes. So I'd say that China might be our best bet at encouraging internal changes inside NK.

  • Re:North Korea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @12:43PM (#42404401)

    No fucking way. The DPRK has artillerie that can hit Seoul. Nor do the leaders of South Korea really relish the thought of paying the huge costs of unification and bringing the North up to the standards of the South. Look at the fall of the DDR and the cost to Germany during unification. This would be worse, far worse.

  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @04:46PM (#42406235)

    To be honest, if the resources of the US were treated in the same way that NK treats it's own people, we'd probably be setting up a colony on Mars right now.

    Most of the reason we are not on Mars right now is that people compare the costs of doing that with maintaining standard of living. In NK, there is no health care debate. Everyone there gets free health care, to a maximum of a band aid and a Kim Jong Un lollipop when they have cancer. In essence, you'd almost be better off living on the streets in the US than to be an NK peasant most days.

    However, yes, their prestige project of rocket science is moving along, and it will eventually progress. That's what happens when a country focuses itself, even imperfectly, on a narrow set of goals, and treats everything else at a bare minimum level. That focus is part arrogance of their elite class, and partly a need for Kim Jong Un to shore up his power base by keeping his military happy with him.

    You could do the same thing in the US too. I assure you, if you did only the minimum you needed to hold down your job, and instead lived in cheap rat infested tenements and ate ramen noodles for your one daily meal, despite the fact that you make more than enough to live in a nice home, you could have a decent nest egg built up. People in the US used to go live in houses they build out of sod so that they could get their hands on some land and make something of themselves. That doesn't mean that I am suggesting that we all sell our houses and go live in shacks to afford good health care, for instance, but a lot of people don't realize that we do actually have a lot of resources at our disposal even if they are limited. It is what we do with those limited resources which makes the difference.

    North Korea has chosen its space program over its people, and the space program is progressing because of it.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.