December 15, 2012:
In North Korea the government was forced to quickly re-open the Chinese border, despite earlier orders to close the border for the December 7-18 mourning period for Kim Jong Il (who died a year ago). Imports of food and other essentials were much in demand and there was growing public unrest over the issue. The government opened the border on the 12
the day of the rocket launch, to make it less obvious that if North Koreans got angry enough the government would back down. This is the sort of thing the North Korean government does not like to admit exists. Public anger was particularly sharp because the government had not announced in advance that the border would be closed on the 5
The government tried to portray the satellite launching as a glorious and joyful event but with so many parts of the country lacking electricity to see the news on TV, the technical achievement had a negative impact on public opinion. Yeah, it’s great for North Korea to build and launch its own space satellite. That puts North Korea in a small club. The Russian Sputnik was the first satellite ever put in orbit, in 1957. The U.S. followed in 1958. Since then, nine other nations have done the same. Before North Korea, Iran was the last to do so three years ago. Ukraine launched one in 1995. Israel did so in 1988, France in 1965, Japan and China in 1970, Britain in 1971, and India in 1980. The North Korean satellite is supposed to last two years but it appears unstable and likely to drift down into the atmosphere and burn up a lot sooner. That’s what happened to the first Iran satellite. This 27 kg (60 pound) bird fell back into the atmosphere after seven weeks and burned up.
December 14, 2012: Over a hundred thousand North Koreans were ordered out to hold a demonstration in the capital to celebrate the recent launch of a space satellite. Few of the demonstrators seemed particularly happy. It was very cold and there was snow on the ground. The country is undergoing severe energy (especially for heating) and food shortages. The government is portraying the rocket launch as a morale builder. It says, in effect, that while we may be cold and hungry, we are mighty. This is not playing well outside the country either. Even Russia urged North Korea not to launch its Unha rocket and China, North Korea’s only major ally, said it “regretted” the launch. Most other nations are extremely angry at the rocket launch, especially in light of the fact that most North Koreans are hungry and cold. North Korea responded with declarations that there would be more launches. No mention was made of obtaining more food and fuel, only that the rocket program was good for the economy.
December 12, 2012: North Korea launched its three stage Unha (“galaxy”) rocket and revealed that it had placed the 100 kg (220 pound) Kwangmyongsong-3 (“Shining Star-3”) weather and crop monitoring satellite in orbit. Unha is a satellite launching variant of the Taepodong ICBM. This is the fifth (the second this year) test of the Taepodong and the first to succeed. Used as an ICBM the Taepodong has a range of 9,000 kilometers, meaning it can reach the United States. However it must carry a heavier (than 100 kg) payload to deliver a nuclear weapon. While a nuclear weapon can be built weighing 100 kg (or less), the need for a heavy heat shield (for re-entry into the atmosphere) means the ICBM payload must be 500 kg or more. The UN has put sanctions on North Korea which forbid the testing of long range ballistic missiles. North Korea’s attempt to get around that by launching a satellite does not work with the UN and more sanctions will be forthcoming. The test is seen as a continuation of the North Korean effort to develop an ICBM that can hit the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. The United States has already deployed an anti-missile system in Alaska specifically to stop any such North Korean attack. For the North Koreans to launch a successful attack they would need at least a dozen Taepodong missiles and be able to launch them simultaneously. If that happened, one or two might get through. But since the Taepodong is a liquid fueled missile, the lengthy launch preparations would alert the United States, who could then use ICBMs or bombers to destroy the Taepodongs before they were ready to go. Thus, as a threat to the United States, the Taepodongs are a failure. But the next stage of ICBM development involves using solid fuel rockets, which can be launched without any warning. That is what North Korea is working towards. Ally Iran has made considerable progress in developing large solid fuel rocket motors and that technology would be available to North Korea. Iran got this tech from Pakistan, who got it from China, who got it from Russia, who stole it from the United States.
The Unha launch was detected by the American ICBM warning system, which is used to alert the solid fueled anti-missile missiles that a target is on the way.
December 8, 2012: The U.S. has moved four Aegis equipped warships (three destroyers and a cruiser) into position to monitor the North Korea missile launch. The Japanese have done the same with three of their Aegis destroyers.
December 5, 2012: North Korea closed its border with China in anticipation of the period (December 7-18) of mourning for Kim Jong Il. In addition they banned imports during the mourning period, there is not supposed to be any alcohol consumption or merrymaking of any kind.
December 3, 2012: The first really cold weather of the season rolled into Korea, with temperatures going down to -8 degrees (18 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and to -22 degrees (-8 Fahrenheit) at night. In North Korea there is a lot less coal available for the locals because the government is exporting most of it to China to obtain hard currency (to buy luxuries for the ruling class and components for the missile and nuclear weapons programs). There is also a growing problem with poorly maintained railroads and highways (as well as a shortage of trucks) making it more difficult (and expensive) to deliver coal to everywhere it is needed. Thus the price for coal in North Korea is twice what it was last year. The increased exports to China are largely from mines that benefitted from Chinese investment and new equipment. The shortage is driving people in mining areas to reopen old, exhausted mine shafts and risk life and limb to scratch out whatever coal they can for warmth and some cash.