The North Korean satellite launched this weekend is tumbling in orbit, rendering it useless, just like another one of the country's satellites launched in December, 2012.
A U.S. official told ABC News that while the Unha 3 rocket was able to get its payload into orbit, it has been tumbling ever since. While the North Korean satellite may not work, the U.S. official said North Korea considers the launch to have been a success because the payload reached orbit. That is of most concern, said the official, since the same technology used to get a payload into orbit is the same needed for a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile to reach the continental United States.
The Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been tracking the North Korean satellite as well as a rocket booster stage that has also gone into orbit.
Both objects have been given catalog identification numbers and have been added to U.S. Strategic Command’s satellite catalog on the public website Space-Track.org.
According to Space Command “The object with NORAD catalog identification number 41332 is KMS-4, the payload (satellite). The object with NORAD catalog identification number 41333 is UNHA 3 R/B, the rocket body.”
“These objects are in a nearly circular orbit, essentially over the poles” at a rotation at a 97.5 degree angle from the Earth's equator.
The tumbling orbit will make the payload re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere faster than a satellite in earth orbit. But that could take some years as JSPOC continues tracking the payload and three debris items from North Korea’s December, 2012 missile launch.
That payload has also been tumbling since its launch and no transmission signals have ever been detected coming from the satellite despite North Korean claims to the contrary.