The North Korean Satellite Is Tumbling Out of Control: How Dangerous Is That?

Rebecca Greenfield
The Atlantic Wire
The North Korean Satellite Is Tumbling Out of Control: How Dangerous Is That?

After so many failed attempts, North Korea finally rocketed its satellite into space early Wednesday — only to watch it go "tumbling out of control," as U.S. officials tell NBC News Wednesday night. That's not only another embarrassment for a country that's looking to launch a nuclear missile — it's a possible safety hazard to a whole lot of other countries. Well done, North Korea.

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First of all, the space object could crash with another satellite like that time two space vehicles collided over Siberia in 2009. That accident had minor effects — the debris didn't cause much harm, with most of it burning up in the atmosphere. Some of the space junk did end up falling on Texas and New Mexico, though. And a school bus-sized piece came crashing down, albeit into the Atlantic Ocean. (Some people, of course, attributed this to god and or aliens.)

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Second, it's not clear what this "space object" does. North Korea claims it's for weather purposes, with the official state news agency dubbing it, rather enthusiastically, a "satellite" — but the White House is not so sure. Plenty of security experts have looked down at the launch as an initial threat to national security, but the material aboard this flight isn't nearly advanced enough to come crashing down in too dangerous a manner.

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As of right now, this tracker puts the object's orbit above the Pacific, near Japan.