A Rose is a Rose is a Rose: Missiles, Satellites, Space Launch Vehicles…



Last week, we noted that there was at least some debate about whether missiles and space launch vehicles were effectively the same thing. The political issue has more or less been settled; the Russians and even the Chinese have weighed in forcefully. For the record, we cite two more entries in the debate, however. The first, via the indispensible Nelson Report, is from Chris Kessler, whose CV includes a number of positions at State dealing with non-proliferation and export controls.

The second is from the North Koreans themselves, and is consistent with a story carried by KCNA all the way back in November entitled “Space Is Common Wealth: KCNA White Paper.” This story should have put us on notice; we reproduce it in full here. What is striking about the North Korean defense is the effort to place the onus for failure on the South Koreans, as if Seoul had to convince Washington that the satellite launch was a violation of the February 29 agreement.


I'm seriously puzzled by the claims of some of your other Loyal Readers that there is a difference between a ballistic missile and a space launch vehicle.  Some sound uninformed, but some sound ideological.

The simple fact is that in both cases, the "vehicle" (to use neutral terms for a moment) puts a payload (whether a satellite or a bomb of some sort) on a trajectory in space.  Depending on how the (normally) 3rd stage of the "vehicle" is programmed, that may be "up" into orbit or "over" or "across" if delivering a weapon to a different point on earth.  There is no/no mechanical difference between the "vehicle" used for one purpose and the "vehicle" used for the other purpose.

There is a difference in the "driving directions" given to this "vehicle."  Where there are serious differences mechanically and otherwise is in the payload: a payload coming back to earth must obviously be packaged in such a way that it will survive the heat and vibration loads created by re-entering the atmosphere.  A satellite is not designed to suffer those re-entry indignities.

There are also differences in the shroud and mounting assembly attached to the terminal stage of the "vehicle."  But this is a simple matter of how you attach the payload to the "vehicle" so that it gets delivered correctly when it reaches the delivery (separation) point in space.  The "vehicle" does not propel the weapon back to earth; it lets gravity and atmospheric friction do that and the separation point is selected so that those forces would bring it back where intended.

Basically, the way to think about this is that the "vehicle" is a truck.  You put a box on the back, and it's a U-Haul van. You put a platform on the back and it's a Home Depot rental delivery vehicle.  But it's the same truck and can be converted from one use to the other without changing the truck itself.  And it goes where the driver (computer or person) programs it to go.

Whether North Korea has a right to launch a satellite, as opposed to test a weapon delivery missile, is a legal issue, not a technical one.  And that question has been well documented by some of you Loyal Readers [SH: including us.] The U.S. government did not make this up.  Accusations that this is really only about a bilateral promise is purely ideological; it falls under the freedom of speech that some of us spent careers defending.  That means it's okay to argue, but it does not make it substantively correct.

The North Koreans

KCNA: DPRK Satellite Launch Not Contradictory to US-DPRK Agreement

KPP20120319971157 Pyongyang KCNA in English 1412 GMT 19 Mar 12

Pyongyang, March 19 (KCNA) -- The South Korean puppet forces are busy with an odd smear campaign over the issue of DPRK's launch of Kwangmyongsong-3.

Afloat on Saturday alone were rumors aimed to disturb negotiations between the DPRK and the U.S.

Dong-A Ilbo said "the north reduced the north Korea-U.S. agreement to a scrap of paper in 15 days". Kukmin Ilbo asserted "this is little short of violating the agreement reached at the DPRK-U.S. high-level talks even before the ink of their signature was dry" and KBS noted "this showed the north's will to take initiative, while boosting its negotiating power", etc.

Then why are they claiming the satellite to be launched by the DPRK is an inter-continental ballistic missile and it is a violation of the agreement reached at the DPRK-U.S. high-level talks on February 29? This can be explained by the political aims sought by the Lee Myung Bak "government" nearing its end.

The Lee group cannot but feel afraid of the results of dialogue and negotiations between the DPRK and U.S. more than anything else. It is seized with uneasiness for fear that it may be forsaken by its master, finding itself with no one to relay on, and may be elbowed out even in the discussion of the regional issues.

It was against this backdrop that the puppet forces seized the DPRK's announcement of its projected launch of satellite as a golden chance to egg the U.S. neo-conservative forces on to drive the DPRK-U.S. talks into a collapse and cling again to the coattails of their U.S. master.

This can be proved by their unusual propaganda claiming that "the DPRK's satellite launch is a provocative plan contrary to the points agreed upon between the north and the U.S." and "the possibility of dialogue and negotiations is doubtful."

This is no more than a petty trick of the stupid and ignorant guys.

Explicitly speaking, the DPRK's launch of satellite has nothing to do with the above-said agreement.

The DPRK has already decided to put moratorium on nuclear test, long-range missile launch and uranium enrichment in Nyongbyon while fruitful talks are under way and allow the IAEA to monitor it.

It opened to the public its plan for the launch on the basis of the legitimate rights of all countries to use outer space for peaceful purposes and sent necessary information to international organizations according to the international regulations and procedures.

The DPRK's plan for satellite launch poses no problem as it is prompted by its noble desire to put the country's up-to-the-minute science and technology on a higher level and thus reinforce the mainstay for building a socialist power and make a contribution to prosperity of the Korean nation and that common to humankind.

The launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile.

More than 100 space vehicles are put into the orbit around the earth by carrier rockets in a year on an average worldwide. How can the puppet and other hostile forces explain this fact.

High vigilance is required against their false propaganda.

In the past, the hostile forces floated story about "suspected uranium enrichment" in a bid to scuttle the DPRK-U.S. dialogue and render the situation extremely tense and this compelled the DPRK to have access to nukes. This lesson taught by history should not be forgotten.

The DPRK's sovereignty and right to existence can be firmly guaranteed by itself.

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