As tensions rise ahead of the planned North Korean launch of their Kwangmyongsong-3 ("Bright Shining Star-3″) satellite, there is extreme skepticism that the Unha-3 rocket was built for peaceful operations at all. The 30-meter (100-ft) long vehicle could be a ballistic missile developed to delver warheads.
But the official word from Pyongyang is that the rocket is being used to launch an observational satellite intended to monitor North Korean forests, natural disasters and weather monitoring. So, this is all the information the world has to go on.
In an effort to model the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, the visualization company Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) has produced a cool animation showing the planned launch trajectory advertised by the North Korean government (shown below).
The visualization begins shortly after launch from Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the Cholsan County of North Phyongan Province. The launch site is only 35 miles (50 kilometers) from the city of Dandong on the Chinese border.
As the satellite is advertised as polar-orbiting, the rocket will set off in a southerly direction, passing precariously close to the South Korean coastline - where the first stage of the rocket will splash down in the ocean. The second stage will then splash down close to the Philippines.
The decision to blast a rocket so close to a nation North Korea is still technically at war with (South Korea) and drop hardware so close to the Philippines has raised some eyebrows in the international community. Seasoned satellite experts have even accused the North Koreans of lying about the nature of the launch.
But as the launch window opens, we'll have to wait and see what really happens to the rocket and satellite. After all, the nation hasn't had any luck in getting anything into space in the past.
Watch the full AGI animation:
Video courtesy Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI)