It is now safe to call the North Korean satellite "space junk." The rogue country's successful launch last week of a "space object" quickly tumbled out of control and, well, it's spiraling somewhere over your head right now — and it might not stop floating around up there for the next several years. "It’s spinning or tumbling, and we haven't picked up any transmissions," Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks rocket launchings and space activity, tells The New York Times. And that's good news for everyone who's not drinking Kim Jong-Un's Kool-Aid.
This satellite is something of a bellwether for North Korean military and space technology. Success for North Koreans and anything they do technologically is bad news for the international community and a sign they might be on their way to scarier things than futile space junk, eventually. "This launch is about a weapons program, not peaceful use of space," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had said at the time of the launch. Ergo, if you're not a fan of Kim Jong-un advancing his weapons cache, this tumbling satellite is a sliver of good news.
Satellites like the one North Korea threw up into suborbital space are supposed to remain steady. The craft is reportedly equipped with a camera and, as the AP reports, "it was designed to constantly point toward the Earth." If that's true, just imagine what kind of hapless video the somersaulting satellite must be transmitting right now. "It is certainly continuing to complete orbits. It is up there and it will be up there for years," McDowell told the AP. (You can track its current location with this tracker.) "[McDowell] added that radio astronomers had picked up no signals from the satellite and that optical astronomers had observed it brightening and dimming as it slowly rotated through space end over end," report The Times's William J. Broad and Choe Sang Hun.
Another couple of signs that this satellite isn't doing so well? We haven't heard from that enthusiastic newscaster who announced its launch. And moreover, the Korean Central News Agency of North Korea hasn't reported on it since its launch, and is instead covering a sweeping story about how "All Parts of DPRK Overcome with Yearning for Kim Jong Il" at the moment.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.