Special to CosmicTribune.com, November 29, 2023
By Richard Fisher
North Korea’s Nov. 21 third launch (first successful after earlier launches on May 30 and Aug. 23) of its Chollima-1 space launch vehicle (SLV) marks the beginning of the Kim family dictatorship’s space power era.
North Korea has become the second terror state to achieve that status after Iran, and now poses new threats for the democracies.
Dictator Kim Jong-Un has used North Korea’s investment in liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles like the large Hwasong-17 to develop the rocket engines, while North Korea’s previous Unha SLV that last flew in 2016, roughly the same size as the Chollima, gave Pyongyang experience building three-stage SLVs.
The Chollima series, however, is militarily more useful for the Pyongyang regime.
• First, unlike the Unha, it is semi-mobile meaning it can be stored horizontally on a transport-erector-launcher bed that can be stored in concealed cave-bases for surprise launches.
• Second, the Nov. 21st launch demonstrated North Korea’s ability to overcome its great space-access geopolitical obstacle of Japan, that previous Unha SLVs had to overfly, raising the prospect that Japan or the United States would shoot them down.
On Nov. 21 the Chollima-1 SLV conducted two “dog leg” diversionary maneuvers to be able to fly south, below the Japanese mainland, the third stage falling to Earth east of the Philippines.
Though it did have to overfly Japanese-occupied Ryukyu islands, it also achieved a much higher altitude, complicating a potential Japanese or U.S. interception.
But the ability of the Chollima-1 to alter its trajectory is also significant should North Korea obtain anti-satellite interceptor systems from China, or should Beijing give Pyongyang the ability to make them, as it has done for much of North Korea’s advanced missile systems.
China’s likely assistance is interesting on another level: North Korea also conducted a pre-planned explosion to destroy the first stage of the Chollima-1, to deny its being gathered by Japan for intelligence analysis, as happened just after the May 30 launch attempt.
China does not afford the world a similar safety destruction for its large Long March-5 first stages, that threaten populations on Earth with their uncontrolled reentries.