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North Korea's Failed Rocket Launch
April 12, 2012 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Despite the White House's stern warning on Tuesday that a rocket launch would end U.S. food aid, North Korea launched its "Unha-3" rocket at 7:39am local time, only to watch it fail roughly a minute later.
posted by lobbyist (106 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
North Korea has a legitimate need to defend itself against itself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Beavis and I miss the trusty old Type o' Dong series.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:37 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US has the most sophisticated and advanced missile defense systems in the world and stealth drones. The North Koreans launched their rocket from a very visible launch point, gave the US plenty of notice and warning that it would be sometime in the next 72 hours. There is really nothing unexpected about it "failing" less than a minute after take off. I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.
posted by humanfont at 7:37 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hope this doesn't set back their Moon program.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:38 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let them eat rockets.
posted by Brian B. at 7:39 PM on April 12, 2012


Exclusive insider footage.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 PM on April 12, 2012 [37 favorites]


I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.

It's more likely they screwed up. It seems like they were trying to test something that could launch a payload into orbit, which I think is really hard to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:44 PM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.

I think there's a reasonably large chance the rocket failed due to good ol' fashioned incompetence.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


The US has the most sophisticated and advanced missile defense systems in the world and stealth drones. The North Koreans launched their rocket from a very visible launch point, gave the US plenty of notice and warning that it would be sometime in the next 72 hours. There is really nothing unexpected about it "failing" less than a minute after take off. I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.

Or that, despite their propaganda to the contrary, North Korea is a dirt poor country without the technical experience to actual pull off a monumentally complex feat like designing and successfully flying a modern rocket program, and their "sophisticated rocket" is mostly held together with duct tape with Kim Jong Il's ghost glaring at it to hold together. People forget that American rockets didn't exactly have a great track record in the early days.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The new kid's first try and he can't get it up? Not unusual.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unha-3 eh? Like the rocket itself, the name is a bit of a let down: I can't be the only one who was hoping that that the successor to the Taepodong would be the Strapondong.
posted by isopraxis at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Does this mean someone has been tortured/murdered for this failure?
posted by basicchannel at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, come on, give them some time before piling on. There are a lot of hurt feelings over there.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I rather hope this isn't the result of western subterfuge but an actual failure. Even better if the South Koreans recover the wreckage and find evidence of home grown sabotage. Now that would be a way to get a message to the outside world, even if they couldn't publicly acknowledge its receipt.
posted by meinvt at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012


This is one of the saddest things I've ever read: How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp (from The Guardian.)
posted by four panels at 7:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hans Blix: Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed to inspect your palace today, but your guards won't let me enter certain areas.

Kim Jong Il: Hans, Hans, Hans! We've been frew this a dozen times. I don't have any weapons of mass destwuction, okay Hans?

Hans Blix: Then let me look around, so I can ease the UN's collective mind. I'm sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me in, or else.

Kim Jong Il: Or else what?

Hans Blix: Or else we will be very angry with you. And we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

posted by Gator at 7:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.

You're way overestimating U.S. capabilities. You're also overestimating the level of the U.S. concern over what everyone knows is saber-rattling by a new regime eager to show its generals that it's just as cool as Dad was and that nothing is intended to change.

On the other hand, what everyone keeps underestimating is the relative size of the threat hanging over Seoul. Who needs a ballistic missile when old-school artillery is still pointed at a metro area of over 23 million? If you thought the siege of Sarajevo sucked ...

Oh, and keep in mind that an extensive counter-strike has been officially off the table since 2009.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not unusual for rockets to flame out early. Happens to everybody when you're trying to do something at the edge of your capability. It's got to be tough for North Korea though, since they don't have the resources to easily try again. But no doubt they'll find the money somewhere, and a province or city will have to go without roads or hot water for another few years.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked it better when they were called "No Dong". Now that's a name for a missile system!
posted by indubitable at 7:55 PM on April 12, 2012


Missile failure happens to lots of guys.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Danger Room: "There’s also reason to believe, with this latest failure, that Pyongyang is getting worse at their launches."
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:59 PM on April 12, 2012


As for the name:

The Unha or Eunha (Korean: 은하-2, 銀河-2, "Galaxy")[1] is a North Korean expendable carrier rocket, which experts say utilises the same delivery system as the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile.[2]

은하 or 銀河 would be pronounced "ginga" in Japanese; I wonder what the pronunciation is in Mandarin?

The Wiki article has an absolutely beautiful illustration of the Unha.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:00 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh Jesus fucking Christ

The North Koreans launched their rocket from a very visible launch point, gave the US plenty of notice and warning that it would be sometime in the next 72 hours. There is really nothing unexpected about it "failing" less than a minute after take off. I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.

Or maybe it's because rocket science is hard. You know how many rockets the Army blew up on test stands and launch stands before they had enough experience to feel like they could put astronauts in one? I'll give you a hint: it was a lot. And those Mercury astronauts were well aware that their chances of a closed casket funeral were awful good.
posted by indubitable at 8:04 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think there's a reasonably large chance the rocket failed due to good ol' fashioned incompetence.

For real. If anyone is hand wringing over North Korea's nuclear program and their missile launches, it should calm you somewhat that they aren't very good at these things. They suck, in other words. I suppose selling nuclear tech/info to terrorist states is something real, but apparently their tech and their info is probably not highly valued, even by rich terrorists.
posted by zardoz at 8:05 PM on April 12, 2012


You're way overestimating U.S. capabilities.

"But when the IAEA later reviewed footage from surveillance cameras installed outside the cascade rooms to monitor Iran’s enrichment program, they were stunned as they counted the numbers. The workers had been replacing the units at an incredible rate — later estimates would indicate between 1,000 and 2,000 centrifuges were swapped out over a few months.

"The question was, why?"

"Stuxnet initially spreads indiscriminately, but includes a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes. . .Siemens stated on 29 November that the worm has not caused any damage to its customers, but the Iran nuclear program, which uses embargoed Siemens equipment procured secretly, has been damaged by Stuxnet.
posted by four panels at 8:06 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


For real. If anyone is hand wringing over North Korea's nuclear program and their missile launches, it should calm you somewhat that they aren't very good at these things

The bastards still managed to launch a missile over Japan in 2006, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2012


It is rocket science.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:08 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, mostly it's a question of engineering for intermediate range rockets now.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 PM on April 12, 2012


I don't understand rockets. You make a splodey thing go thataway. I sincerely don't get why they're so difficult to get working properly. I don't mean this to say 'Oh I could do it, easy!' I just have no idea what the hard part is.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a carefully modulated, continuous explosion. And in the case of long range rockets like this, you've got different stages to deal with that have to activate and then drop off before the next stage can work. There's lots of raw power and precise coordination that tests machinery to its limits.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:21 PM on April 12, 2012


I hope this doesn't set back their Moon program.

I know you were kidding, but I've been reading about the USSR's supposed "lost cosmonauts" lately, plus I just saw Apollo 18. That makes it easy to imagine the corpses of unsuccessful North Korean astronauts floating in space, shot up there in pitiful tin cans that make the Mir look like the Enterprise. It seems like the sort of thing NK might eventually do simply for the hell of it.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


은하 or 銀河 would be pronounced "ginga" in Japanese; I wonder what the pronunciation is in Mandarin?
It's yínhé, and means 'the Milky Way' rather than galaxy in general.
posted by Abiezer at 8:22 PM on April 12, 2012


Hilary texted a response
posted by Flashman at 8:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Four Panels, first of all, Stuxnet was installed physically on a machine at Bushehr. It wasn't some kind of fancy Johnny Lee Miller remote hacking from the future. Second, it's all but common knowledge that stuxnet's primary architect is Israel, not the US.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 8:26 PM on April 12, 2012


Aerodynamics, shakespeherian. You've got a chaotic system or two that will make your rocket keep on turning after it goes just a wee bit the wrong way. In flight, putting the steering wheel back to center doesn't mean you go straight, it means you maintain the turn you're doing until you undo it. With unpiloted rockets, you might not have the luxury of changing anything about your course in mid-flight. If you do, it's by a remote control system that's perhaps more remote than usual, so the operator needs to understand what's going on up there--what sensors does that require?...
posted by LogicalDash at 8:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


We had both means and motive. Why wouldn't we have done everything we could to sabotage or destroy the missile. Sure rocket science is hard, but we can make it harder. We have so many ways we could sabotage or destroy the rocket, I see no reason to think that these methods were not used to ensure the outcome we wanted.
posted by humanfont at 8:28 PM on April 12, 2012


Even better if the South Koreans recover the wreckage and find evidence of home grown sabotage.

What would be even better than that is if the South Koreans recover the wreckage and find inside it a simple note that says "SEND HELP I AM TRAPPED IN A ROCKET FACTORY. ALSO MY FAMILY HAS BEEN MURDERED."
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2012


Its really hard to make things go up. It takes quite a bit of energy. In a rocket this energy is delivered in a controlled explosion. The two main ways are liquid or solid rockets.

In liquid you have to have storage tanks for the fuels which may or may not be cryogenic (supercold). You have to deliver massive amounts of these fuels in a precise way into a combustion chamber so this takes really fancy pumps, you can't just pour them in. All this fancy equipment is heavy and the heavier it is it uses more fuel which weighs more which takes more fuel which weighs more, etc.... You need fancy equipment that can withstand massive vibrations from the 'sploding its doing down below oh and the fancy equipment needs to be as lightweight as possible.

Solids are a lot simpler, but still very hard to do right. They have a giant liquid mixture of the fuel that they cast into shapes, basically a giant cylinder with a hole down the middle. Well they need to cast this perfectly without any air bubbles or even super tiny cracks. The fuel burns at a rate that is dependent on temperature, pressure and surface area of the fuel. As it is burning if it hits a crack the combustion chamber is immediately exposed to more surface area than it is supposed to which immediately raises pressure and burn rate which makes it burn faster which makes more surface area exposed too quickly which raises pressure.... you see where I'm going.

A rocket takes the energy of a bomb and directs it in one way (hopefully) without destroying what it is trying to send somewhere (hopefully). Its really freaking hard.

This doesn't even touch on aerodynamics or control.
posted by Phantomx at 8:30 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's yínhé,

Basically the same as "ginga", and I gues "uenha" is even closer to "yínhé"

銀河系 means "Milky Way" in Japanese
posted by KokuRyu at 8:33 PM on April 12, 2012


From the aerodynamics/control perspective: try to balance a broomstick, upside down, on your palm. Now imagine doing that on top of a controlled explosion.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I see no reason to think that these methods were not used to ensure the outcome we wanted.

You're asking for proof of a negative (i.e. how do know it wasn't...?) in order to change your mind. That's impossible. How do we know it wasn't the CIA? Well, how do we know it wasn't space aliens? How do we know it wasn't my cousin Timmy with a slingshot?

Think about that, huh? You know, Timmy's really bad-ass with that slingshot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I see no reason to think that these methods were not used to ensure the outcome we wanted.

You mean..... Secret American Meddling?
posted by storybored at 8:37 PM on April 12, 2012


I think what they're saying is there's a reason we use "rocket science" as an example of something that is hard to do.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out how to mark things as Best Answer.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:40 PM on April 12, 2012


The new kid's first try and he can't get it up? Not unusual.
Oh kid got it up all right, he just blew up prematurely.
posted by PapaLobo at 8:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to point out that some sort of magic missile shield intercepting said missile is even more unlikely than sabotage (we don't even know HOW OLD Kim Jong Un is, you expect us to know the specific model of Siemens centrifuges the N Koreans MIGHT be using? I don't know who did the groundwork for Stuxnet, but I'm gonna guess not the US, probably Israel - but that's another matter). The problem of getting a rocket off the ground is hard; the problem of hitting a hypersonic projectile out of the probability space of THE SKY with another hypersonic projectile is something even the United States hasn't been able to demonstrate outside of a heavily scripted press junket. And bear in mind this is the same country that has sent a not-insignificant number of man made objects outside the damned Solar System. This is not a trivial problem.
posted by Tikirific at 8:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look, these jackasses already know how to make a nuke. They own a few - and are making more. Why launch one from an obvious traceable system. They send one (via missile) our direction and that country is turned into an instant wasteland.

The thing I fear - is a shipping container more than a ballistic missile. There is so much hype as to the importance of a missile. That's bullshit. It's not going to be via an obvious source that we are attacked. It will be sitting in a customs warehouse when detonated.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:55 PM on April 12, 2012


storybored: You mean..... Secret American Meddling?

That's uncle Secret American Meddling, to you.
posted by gilrain at 8:58 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing I fear - is a shipping container more than a ballistic missile.

Absolutely. The North Koreans are way better at smuggling than rocketry, and they're not bad at espionage. If they really wanted to send one over here, that'd be the way to do it. But their "hatred" of the US is way overblown, they'd sooner use all the good stuff up on Japan and South Korea than the US.
posted by Tikirific at 9:00 PM on April 12, 2012


Bighappyfunhouse: The thing I fear - is a shipping container more than a ballistic missile. There is so much hype as to the importance of a missile. That's bullshit. It's not going to be via an obvious source that we are attacked. It will be sitting in a customs warehouse when detonated.

Well, one bright side is that detonating a nuclear weapon in those circumstances would vastly reduce the damage it caused (vs. an airburst like a dropped bomb or missile). You also can't aim it wherever you want. So, missiles are significantly more dangerous on a few levels.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


@humanfont: The really important bit is that NK don't know either.
posted by teppic at 9:05 PM on April 12, 2012


I guess North Korea's nuclear program, and it's missile program, aren't really supposed to be a strategic threat. Like Cool Papa Bell said, they already have that covered with their massive conventional army and artillery. They'd probably be overjoyed if the rocket worked, but that wasn't the main goal.

The purpose of all this showy aggression is to convince the rest of the world that we need to pay them off. South Korea is used to living under the threat of conventional annihilation, so NK has to keep periodically reminding us all that they're still crazy and capable of causing serious damage.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


We had both means and motive. Why wouldn't we have done everything we could to sabotage or destroy the missile. Sure rocket science is hard, but we can make it harder. We have so many ways we could sabotage or destroy the rocket, I see no reason to think that these methods were not used to ensure the outcome we wanted.

I find the lack of a shred of evidence to be a compelling reason not to think these methods were used.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, North Korea is really and truly alone in the world (and is also located in a dangerous corner of the globe) so in a twisted way it makes perfect sense for the country to pursue a nuclear deterrent. It's all they have (besides a massive horde of starving refugees they could unleash on China at any moment).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or South Korea for that matter.
posted by Tikirific at 9:17 PM on April 12, 2012


I think the biggest danger with North Korea getting nuclear missiles is that they'll continue to escalate the extortion. Once that happens, everyone will be in real trouble - paying them off will only result in prolonging their regime and increasing their power, and the danger they'll present will only increase over time. That will just feed into greater extortion until some day they demand something we won't give them (land, people, weapons, etc) and everything explodes.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:19 PM on April 12, 2012


Well, one bright side is that detonating a nuclear weapon in those circumstances would vastly reduce the damage it caused (vs. an airburst like a dropped bomb or missile). You also can't aim it wherever you want. So, missiles are significantly more dangerous on a few levels.

I'm not buying that. You put a nuke on a yacht, a tanker, or even in a shipping container - there is no "bright side". It's a major hit. Devastating to any American city - our economy - everything. Then, it's a guessing game as to where it came from.

They launch a missile - we know where it came from - and we respond. Big time.

There are no winners in this situation. Even if it has attack benefits - having a delivery system that is traceable - is suicide to use. That's why I don't think it will be by a ballistic missile that we will be attacked.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:23 PM on April 12, 2012


But, as someone pointed out in a previous North Korea thread here, buying them off is *really* cheap. As long as we stick to food aid, it's also safe. No matter what leaders ran the place, they are so poor that we'd probably send them food aid anyway. Saving millions of people from starvation or malnourishment is a good thing.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Failed rocket launch? Successful secret submarine launch, more like.
posted by micketymoc at 9:31 PM on April 12, 2012


Mitrovarr: I think that is a legitimate fear, but I think the North Koreans have just as much invested in maintaining the status quo. They like getting something for nothing, they like holding onto power. No matter what they bluster, they know if it actually does come to conflict, North Korea MAY do some pretty painful stuff to SK, Japan, and perhaps even the West, but their own gang is ultimately going to be completely obliterated. Jong-Un and the brass value their hides too much to accept that.

For years and years, it seems like they report that the North Korean leadership is incompetent and irrational - all this "insanity" business really distracts from rational discourse. You don't hold onto power for 50 years and build nuclear weapons on inept, insane leadership. They are sociopathic, and they are scum, but they are not irrational in the way a lot of people in the West picture them as.
posted by Tikirific at 9:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is exactly how the Cold War happened.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:35 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Triplanetary: But, as someone pointed out in a previous North Korea thread here, buying them off is *really* cheap. As long as we stick to food aid, it's also safe. No matter what leaders ran the place, they are so poor that we'd probably send them food aid anyway. Saving millions of people from starvation or malnourishment is a good thing.

I don't trust them. I think they ask for what they think they can get. Right now, all they've got is the questionable ability to hit areas around the South Korean border with a lot of artillery over a couple of days. This is bad, but it's not nearly as bad as being able to do that plus drop a few nukes on South Korea and Japan. Once they get that ability, I worry that they'll bluster a lot harder and ask for a lot more - with which they will make more missiles and better nukes.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:36 PM on April 12, 2012


Just remember, a lot of rockets blew up in the hands of today's major superpowers. It takes a lot of work to make it, uh, work. If they keep trying, they'll get there sooner or later.
posted by davejay at 9:49 PM on April 12, 2012


Well, one bright side is that detonating a nuclear weapon in those circumstances would vastly reduce the damage it caused (vs. an airburst like a dropped bomb or missile). You also can't aim it wherever you want. So, missiles are significantly more dangerous on a few levels.

So, what would it take to hide a small missile launching platform inside a shipping container?
posted by radwolf76 at 11:17 PM on April 12, 2012


Miniaturizing the bomb itself to the point were it fits in a shipping container and still works reliably is no mean feat, adding missile launch capabilities on top of that is strictly video game material.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:26 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


They would have to get their dinky little nukes pretty close to sensitive targets to do anything more than just piss off the even most liberal POTUS and mean certain defeat.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:31 PM on April 12, 2012


ㄲㄲㄲ
posted by bardic at 11:40 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


humanfont: "We had both means and motive. Why wouldn't we have done everything we could to sabotage or destroy the missile. Sure rocket science is hard, but we can make it harder. We have so many ways we could sabotage or destroy the rocket, I see no reason to think that these methods were not used to ensure the outcome we wanted."

Y'all had both the means and motive in 2006. Why didn't y'all do it then? I have a hard time seeing why this time would be so different.
posted by Bugbread at 12:17 AM on April 13, 2012


It's amusing how every headline on this has the word 'fail' in it. Levels, people.
posted by basicchannel at 12:42 AM on April 13, 2012


Why wouldn't we have done everything we could to sabotage or destroy the missile.

1 - sometimes it's better to let an enemy fail on his own

2 - success might have been more useful to use against them

and a shipping container bomb wouldn't even have to work to be an effective weapon against our economy - the minute we found it we would then be obliged to pretty much inspect everything that came into the country and the costs would be enormous
posted by pyramid termite at 2:42 AM on April 13, 2012


Well, on the one hand, even a genuine failed launch might generate a lot of new data for their missile/rocket program. In that sense, their attempting it at all in the face of international objections is a bigger deal than whether the rocket flight itself was a 'success'.

On the other hand, I am dubious about sabotage, I think that would imply a level of humint in NK that I doubt we (the West) possesses. However I think it somewhat more likely that the US might choose to use antiballistic missile technology against the rocket shortly after launch. Isn't that the kind of program that Putin has been objecting to for a decade now? A successful hit on an NK missile need never be acknowledged publicly, would cause the utility of the whole NK rocketry program to be questioned, and serve as a broader deterrent to observant nations.

Just thinking out loud here - its fun to guess.
posted by newdaddy at 3:04 AM on April 13, 2012


something i haven't seen brought up anywhere, from the war nerd's column after the last missile test:

Second point: short flight means the test-bed falls into the ocean near the NK coast, where our subs and recovery ships (like the Glomar that retrieved half a Soviet sub from the deep ocean) can't grab the remains. After all, Kim doesn't have the whole of the South Pacific to test and recover ICBMs like we do, or all of Siberia like the Soviets did.

The test missile fell in two chunks (first and second stage), but both came down so close to the NK coast that nobody's going after them. See, NK never bought into that 12-mile limit rule. Their fast attack craft patrol aggressively up to 200 miles from the NK coastline. And they will attack anything when they're in the mood. There's lots of reasons for that attitude, starting with (a) they're insane; and (b) NK makes most of its foreign exchange by exporting pure heroin, speed and any other drug decadent capitalist youth will buy, so they don't want anybody even looking at coastal freighter traffic out of Pyongyang.

posted by p3on at 3:44 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US has the most sophisticated and advanced missile defense systems in the world and stealth drones ... There is really nothing unexpected about it "failing" less than a minute after take off. I am mildly curious if it was done via a software hack of the control systems, sabotage during manufacture, or an actual defense system.
Stealth drones can't magically make rockets not work, and I doubt this thing had much software to hack.

The North Koreans have an incredibly closed society. Anyone working on this would be placed pretty high up in the hierarchy, probably the children and grand children of similarly high level people.

They would have a lot to lose by spying or sabotage, and nothing to gain, since we couldn't pay them with any money they could use for any purpose.

Plus, they have a working nuclear program, they've built atom bombs without us being able to stop them, how could we stop a rocket launch without being obvious?

Even today the US and Russians lose space craft. It's not easy.
"Stuxnet initially spreads indiscriminately, but includes a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes. . .Siemens stated on 29 November that the worm has not caused any damage to its customers, but the Iran nuclear program, which uses embargoed Siemens equipment procured secretly, has been damaged by Stuxnet.
Stuxnet was clever but not really magical. It was just an ordinary computer virus. The only reason it was successful was due to a security bug in windows that no one else had discovered. Because it spread slowly and only damaged centrifuges that were hooked up to infected machines, it wouldn't be noticed for a long time.

But, this rocket thing probably didn't have much software to speak of. ICBMs are not easy to build, and the U.S. lost plenty of rockets when it was getting started.
We had both means and motive. Why wouldn't we have done everything we could to sabotage or destroy the missile.
Why didn't we do everything we could to sabotage their nuclear program? Oh, maybe because the CIA isn't staffed by magical leprechauns? How much advance notice did we even have about this rocket? How much did we know about it before it showed up on a platform, ready to launch.

These guys are the most paranoid and reclusive country on earth. How would you even get spies on the ground? I'm sure most of the work takes place in subterranean facilities, we still don't have technology that can see what's happening underground.

If we wanted to blow up the rocket, we could have just blown up the rocket with a missile while it was sitting on the launch pad.
posted by delmoi at 4:15 AM on April 13, 2012


shakespeherian: "I don't understand rockets. You make a splodey thing go thataway. I sincerely don't get why they're so difficult to get working properly. I don't mean this to say 'Oh I could do it, easy!' I just have no idea what the hard part is."

Try it yourself.
posted by Splunge at 4:56 AM on April 13, 2012


Frankly, I'm amazed they did so much prior publicity for the launch, including inviting foreign journalists to cover the event. I mean...Have they never seen any movies? Any big science project that is hyped and covered by the press always fails spectacularly.

Usually, the spectacular failure also inadvertently releases ancient demons from their eons-long imprisonment, but that's another FPP, I guess.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on April 13, 2012


Why didn't we do everything we could to sabotage their nuclear program? Oh, maybe because the CIA isn't staffed by magical leprechauns? How much advance notice did we even have about this rocket? How much did we know about it before it showed up on a platform, ready to launch.
It has been reported for several months now that the North Koreans were planing a possible nuclear test and rocket launch to coincide with this anniversary event. There have been media reports that satellite imagery indicated fresh construction at the launch facility and at a location where they do nuclear testing. The rocket itself was sitting not the launch pad for over a week. The North Koreans issued a general aviation warning of an imminent launch within the next 5 days earlier this week.
We probably are engaged in sabotage against their nuclear program. There have been reports of lower than expected yields and partial failures during the tests. It would be strange if policy makers who approved covert action against the Iranian program didn't approve similar measures against North Korea.

If we wanted to blow up the rocket, we could have just blown up the rocket with a missile while it was sitting on the launch pad.

There would be little plausible deniability in that kind of action. Much better to introduce a mechanical defect during manufacturing the many parts necessary for the rocket, inject some bugs into the guidance and control software, or hit it with something after it has left the launch pad.
posted by humanfont at 5:19 AM on April 13, 2012


Ground control to major Dong...
posted by Renoroc at 5:29 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


ㄲㄲㄲ

Human centipede?
posted by Meatbomb at 5:47 AM on April 13, 2012


Dear USA,

It's not always about you.

Signed,

Kanye West
posted by KokuRyu at 6:10 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


North Korea's ‘Big Lie’ era may be over as it admits to fiery rocket failure
posted by KokuRyu at 6:13 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


>It is rocket science.

Yes, it is rocket science. But the putative aim of the launch was to deploy a satellite in space, and this stuff goes on continuously in the commercial realm. Large investments are deposited daily on the ability of satellite launchers to get the payload in orbit without any glitches or fuckups.

Okay, so it was really a military launch. We get that. But you don't get a pass, North Korea, when similar rockets are successfully launched all the time. This level of rocket deployment is rocket science, true, but it's not Rocket Science, capital "R" capital "S."
posted by Gordion Knott at 6:15 AM on April 13, 2012


If the US or other intelligence agencies were as ultrasuperawesome competent as humanfont is making them out to be, then they would have made the wreckage easily accessible. But as p3on's link shows, that's not the case by a long shot (pun kind of intended?).

I agree with it being garden-variety incompetence.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:32 AM on April 13, 2012


I don't understand rockets. You make a splodey thing go thataway. I sincerely don't get why they're so difficult to get working properly. I don't mean this to say 'Oh I could do it, easy!' I just have no idea what the hard part is.

On one episode of MythBusters, the build team tries to build a replica of a Korean hwacha, basically a medieval portable multiple rocket-arrow launcher. They got it to work, and the medieval Koreans obviously did, but watching them do it demonstrates just how hard this stuff really is.

So you're trying to build a rocket. For how, we'll just stick with the "thataway" requirement in terms of guidance. You're using black powder as fuel. But if you just light a bunch of black powder, all you get is BOOM. No good. So you pack the powder in a tube and put a nozzle on the back, trying to both direct the force of the explosion and force the powder to burn off in a controlled fashion rather than just going up all at once. Too narrow a nozzle, and the forces build up too much. BOOM. Slightly too wide, and the thing doesn't blow up, but it doesn't leave the launcher either. Not enough concentrated force. Much too wide, and you haven't controlled the burn, and BOOM. You also need to figure out how much fuel you need to go as far as you want to go, but once you've got lift-off, this can be accomplished by just using a longer tube or multiple stages.

Congratulations! You've built a glorified firecracker. Stick enough of them in your hwacha and you're bound to hit something, particularly if said somethings are packed pretty close together and not that far off.

Oh, what's that? You want to hit a target a mile away? Or a hundred? Or a thousand? Now we're talking guidance systems. So you need to control the thrust, intelligently, and combine that with aerodynamic systems which stabilize the flight. Again, getting the thing to go a thousand miles is, all things considered, a lot easier than getting it to go to any particular spot a thousand miles away.

But now we're not just talking ICBMs, we're talking satellite launches. Now hitting your target doesn't require simply getting the thing there. You've got to hit the target at the right speed from the right trajectory. Getting into low earth orbit--200-2,000km up--means attaining a speed of at least 6.5km/s. Too slow, and you fall out of orbit. Too fast and you break orbit. And it needs to be at just the right trajectory too. Too low and you burn up in the atmosphere. Too high and you break orbit. And remember, we're probably not just talking about getting something into orbit period we want to park our satellite in a particular orbital slot so as to both avoid other orbital debris and be most useful for terrestrial purposes.

You know why some of the first computers were built? To compute artillery firing solutions. Orbital mechanics is an extension of that. It's really, really, touchy.

All of that being said, it seems like the North Korean engineers didn't even get the "easy" stuff right. It would be one thing if the rocket just missed. Accuracy in this game is incredibly challenging. But their rocket just blew up a minute after launch. Building a rocket that doesn't is still really hard, but that's still the easy part.
posted by valkyryn at 6:38 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


For example, I accidentally doubled the amount baking powder in a batch of waffles, and it was just a mess. I can really understand how the North Koreans feel at the moment.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:41 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine once, in childhood, attempted to make cookies from scratch off of a recipe, but couldn't figure out what the measurements referred to (TSP? she was like eight) and so just used a cup of everything.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It has been reported for several months now that the North Koreans were planing a possible nuclear test and rocket launch to coincide with this anniversary event. There have been media reports that satellite imagery indicated fresh construction at the launch facility and at a location where they do nuclear testing. The rocket itself was sitting not the launch pad for over a week. The North Koreans issued a general aviation warning of an imminent launch within the next 5 days earlier this week.

We probably are engaged in sabotage against their nuclear program. There have been reports of lower than expected yields and partial failures during the tests. It would be strange if policy makers who approved covert action against the Iranian program didn't approve similar measures against North Korea.


It was either US and Israel working together, or Israel. Stuxnet was done during the Bush administration. So how is it the "Same policy makers"? Since when does Israel give a crap about North Korea? It's completely isolated, all it's neighbors pretty much get along at this point, how much trouble can they actually cause?

This is just so ridiculous. You're basically arguing that because you can imagine something might be true, it must be true. There is an enormous leap in logic to assume that North Koreans could have done something
Yes, it is rocket science. But the putative aim of the launch was to deploy a satellite in space, and this stuff goes on continuously in the commercial realm. Large investments are deposited daily on the ability of satellite launchers to get the payload in orbit without any glitches or fuckups.
No, glitches and fuck ups happen all the time. The cost of failures is figured into the overall cost. Do you seriously think every satellite launch is successful?

Secondly, you're talking about space industries that have been continuously working on the problem for decades. The same people who know all the little, non-obvious things that get you if you're not looking out for them.

In North Korea, you have essentially isolated scientists trying to re-create what the west and Russia have already done from scratch. And believe it or not, when the U.S. and Russia started there were a lot of problems. Just look at the space shuttle, for example. It crashed twice despite people being as careful as possible after the first crash.

Another example is the Indian space program's polar launch vehicle, which crashed the first time they tried launching it. And India has far more resources and a much larger engineering base then North Korea.

Seriously, if you think launching a rocket into space without anyone on your team having any experience doing so is an endeavor likely to succeed on the first try you're totally delusional.

The North Koreans can't even keep the electricity on most of the time.

And again, the North Koreans aren't really going to upset geopolitical stability the way Iran might. They already have this technology, so it doesn't really change anything. North Korea is dependent on food imports, while Iran is an oil exporter.
posted by delmoi at 6:47 AM on April 13, 2012


Ok, despite engaging in intellectual indentured servitude with most of their not-able-bodied-enough-for-the-military population, I really don't think NK needs help biffing a rocket. Presumably, the plans and instructions acquired from sovereign, rocket-competent nations (with electricity, post-slide-rule technology, etc.) don't make it back to Pyongyang in one piece. I can imagine crucial details being lost in a game of technological telephone...especially in a nation that doesn't have many working telephones. It's a damn shame to watch the rocket flame out, burning more energy in one blast than most people have to cook with for a year. And for what? This is all totally flaccid posturing, but at least Kokoryu's link points at NK's refreshing attempt at accountability...

Furthermore, I really don't AccuWeather forecasts are going to mend NK's social fabric.

At least they are getting better at the naming thing. Taepo Dong, yikes..
posted by obscurator at 7:10 AM on April 13, 2012


I've been checking the official North Korean English news site for their coverage of the launch, but there's nothing yet. However there is a Congratulations to Kim Jong Un from Syrian President, apparently reported entirely without irony.
posted by Nelson at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2012


Quoting the NYTimes article; "The rocket and satellite — which cost the impoverished country an estimated $450 million to build, according to South Korean government estimates — splintered into many pieces and plunged into the gray blue waters of the Yellow Sea. "

That seems to disagree with what was said in the War Nerd article linked above "The test missile fell in two chunks (first and second stage), [...]" but I honestly couldn't tell whether that article was referring to the very recent launch or a prior one. What I suspect happened is that the WN article has no date associated with it, but the web page, when you call it, inserts today's date.
posted by newdaddy at 8:04 AM on April 13, 2012


I'm no rocket scientist, but according to the BBC's map, the rocket crashed right around the planned first stage falling area. That suggests to me that the first stage failed to separate, the second failed to ignite, or a failure of aerodynamic jiggery-pokery during that process.
posted by Gelatin at 10:45 AM on April 13, 2012


Why would we have done anything? I can't even begin to calculate the mileage that the hawks and other subsidiaries of Fear Everything, Inc. would've obtained from a successful launch.
posted by dantsea at 11:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


One can identify a significant number of benefits for the US with the failure of the missile test and other prior test failures. A successful test would have been a bad outcome for the US. This one would assume given the opportunity to play a role in the success or failure of the test, we would have an incentive to act to increase the potential for failure.
The US has the means to destroy a missile / rocket in its initial boost phase. We have chemical lasers, guidance/communications jamming other anti-missile weapons which were developed over the last three decades with a trillion+ dollars in R&D. We had the exact launch point, we had drones, planes, ground based tracking systems and naval craft monitoring the time of launch and the track of the rocket. The rocket is simple with no advanced countermeasures.

Given the benefits and consequences of various outcomes and the trivial effort involved in crashing the rocket; why wouldn't the US act? Even if they suspect we crashed it; they can't prove it. They will probably blame us anyway as it saves some face.
posted by humanfont at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2012


Pyongyang Forced to Face Latest Failed Launch.
Among North Korea observers, that acknowledgment became almost as significant as the launch itself and fed into speculation about what its authoritarian regime will do next and how far the admission of failure had weakened its grip on power.

"They decided it would be better to get out in front it rather than having the failure spread through word of month," he said. Some noted that, after enduring a month of international criticism for the launch and inviting foreign reporters to see the rocket earlier this week, the government had no other choice but to break with past claims of successful launches, despite their failure.
posted by Nelson at 11:22 AM on April 13, 2012


shakespeherian: "I just have no idea what the hard part is."

One of them is designing a pump that can pump rocket fuel into the combustion chamber at a very precise rate. Doesn't sound so hard? Well, now recall that almost the entirety of the innards of the rocket are filled with fuel and that it's all used up in a couple of minutes.

That's a big fucking pump. And if it happens to cavitate for a moment or something like that, you get this.

They should be ashamed for their ridiculous agitation and callous disregard for their own people, not for having a rocket fail.
posted by wierdo at 12:51 PM on April 13, 2012


I want to see a Simpsons-style drawing of Nelson Muntz dressed in an Uncle Sam ensemble, pointing at their exploded rocket bits and emitting a "HA HA".
posted by Dr. Zira at 1:40 PM on April 13, 2012


In Soviet Korea, orbit the nuke from site -- sure it's the only way to be.
posted by Anything at 1:56 PM on April 13, 2012


humanfont: "Given the benefits and consequences of various outcomes and the trivial effort involved in crashing the rocket; why wouldn't the US act?"

Presumably for the same reason the US didn't act in 2006.
posted by Bugbread at 4:40 PM on April 13, 2012


Curious about what needs to happen during the inevitable North Korean collapse. This reviews a detailed scholarly article about that very issue.
posted by shothotbot at 7:19 PM on April 13, 2012


One can identify a significant number of benefits for the US with the failure of the missile test and other prior test failures. A successful test would have been a bad outcome for the US. This one would assume given the opportunity to play a role in the success or failure of the test, we would have an incentive to act to increase the potential for failure.
So what? You can't just say, okay the U.S. would be better off if the missile failed, therefore we used black magic to make it happen. That's just ridiculous. We had way more incentive to stop their nuclear testing, but weren't able to do it, so why would we be able to stop it this?

North Korea isn't Iran. People can come and go in Iran, there are lots of Iranians living in the U.S. and Europe who travel back and forth all the time. It would be easy to meet with spies and give them memory sticks.
Given the benefits and consequences of various outcomes and the trivial effort involved in crashing the rocket;
How would this be 'trivial'? You seem to think the CIA has magical powers or something. How do "stealth drones" sabotage a rocket? Did they use magical rays? Invisible robots? What? It was dumb luck that the windows security hole existed that allowed stuxnet to propagate without using a network.

The other problem is that rockets fail to work all the time, and they are really difficult to get right. All the first world powers and other countries have had issues getting their large rockets to work.
posted by delmoi at 11:41 PM on April 13, 2012


delmoi: "How would this be 'trivial'?"

Well, it would have been reasonably possible, although not trivial, to destroy a missile launched from a known place at a known time from a small country like NK if we had one of these in operation.
posted by wierdo at 1:14 AM on April 14, 2012


The official (North) Korean News Service finally published their English language statement
April 13. 2012 Juch 101
DPRK's Satellite Fails to Enter Its Orbit

Pyongyang, April 13 (KCNA) -- The DPRK launched its first application satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province at 07:38:55 a.m. on Friday.

The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit.

Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure.
Message ends.

There's some 30 other stories today, as is usual. For instance
The dear respected Kim Jong Un received congratulatory letters from the offices of the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme and a floral basket from the Nigerian embassy here on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of President Kim Il Sung.

They were separately handed over to officials concerned on Friday.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on April 14, 2012


Well, it would have been reasonably possible, although not trivial, to destroy a missile launched from a known place at a known time from a small country like NK if we had one of these in operation.
Okay, but again we're talking about making it appear to fail on it's own. Destroying it outright wouldn't have been difficult at all.
posted by delmoi at 1:32 PM on April 14, 2012


The thing is this. North Korea's first attempt to launch a satellite? 1997.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:15 AM on April 15, 2012


Maybe the programme lacks continuity because failed launches lead to rocket scientists being fed to sharks?
posted by Meatbomb at 8:55 AM on April 15, 2012


Officially the YAL-1 was sent to the boneyard in February. The plane was a 747 that carried a huge airborne chemical laser designed to attack a missile during its boost phase, precisely when the North Korean rocket exploded.
posted by humanfont at 5:19 PM on April 16, 2012



DPRK Rejects UNSC's Act to Violate DPRK's Legitimate Right to Launch Satellite
The DPRK took steps to show the sincerity and transparency of the satellite launch for peaceful purposes to the maximum from A to Z as an exception and aroused sympathy of broad world public.

The U.S., finding it hard to conceal the truth, after hatching all sorts of dastardly trick to prevent the peaceful nature of the DPRK's satellite launch from being confirmed objectively and persistently term it a long-range missile launch, imposed upon the UNSC its brigandish demand that the DPRK should not be allowed to launch even a satellite for peaceful purposes.
DPRK's Satellites for Peaceful Purposes to Continue Orbiting Space: KCST Spokesman
posted by Nelson at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2012


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