A Delta IV heavy lift rocket launches an Air Force satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral.
The Associated Press
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— A new military communications satellite has been launched into space.
An unmanned Delta IV rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday evening. The satellite was the fifth Wideband Global satcom spacecraft to be launched.
The satellite, which is being sent into an orbit that follows the earth's rotation 22,000 miles above the equator, will serve the U.S. military with the highest capacity communications currently available.
It will take several months for the satellite to settle into the proper orbit.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This artist conception shows the GOES-East satellite. The weather satellite malfunction for the second time in less than a year on Tuesday.
By John Roach, Contributing Writer, NBC News
For the second time in less than a year, the main satellite that keeps an eye on severe weather systems in the eastern half of the United States has malfunctioned, according to government officials. The failure is indicative of the overall aging of the nation's weather satellite network that could lead to gaps in coverage as the fleet is replaced, an expert said.
Although a backup satellite began operating Thursday, the failure of GOES-East, also known as GOES-13, is "really bad timing because of the upcoming hurricane season, and also we are smack dab in the middle of severe weather season," Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, told NBC News.
Hurricane season officially starts on June 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an outlook Thursday calling for a "possibly extremely active" season with 13 to 20 named storms, including three to six major hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour (179 kilometers per hour) or higher.
The satellite that failed on Tuesday is one of NOAA's three geostationary satellites. GOES-East hovers above the equator at 75 degrees longitude, providing a steady stream of image data for the eastern U.S. and Atlantic Ocean. The second satellite is GOES-West, which focuses on the western U.S. and the Pacific.
The backup satellite, GOES-14, is in geostationary orbit at 105 degrees longitude. This 30-degree difference between GOES-East and GOES-14 means "you can't see as far east," Thomas Renkevens, deputy division chief with NOAA's satellite products and services division, explained to NBC News.
"You can still see the United States, you still see the Caribbean, and a good part of the Atlantic Ocean," he added. NOAA cooperates with European weather agencies to ensure coverage over the entire ocean basin. "We are not blind in any area."
Should the backup satellite also fail, NOAA would have to lean more heavily on its European partners, and would probably have to put GOES-West into full-disk mode, he explained. In that mode, it takes an image of Earth's entire disk every half hour. "From that, you can see the full United States, and a little bit of the Atlantic Ocean, really the coastal areas, at a very slant angle," Renkevens said. "It is not ideal … but it is better than nothing."
NOAA put GOES-West in full-disk mode on Wednesday as a stopgap while GOES-14 was being activated.
The loss of GOES-13 on Tuesday marks the second time the satellite had malfunctioned in less than a year — it last blinked out in September prior to Hurricane Sandy, and took several weeks to repair. Engineers are still studying Tuesday's failure to determine the cause and whether the satellite can be fixed, Renkevens noted.
The failures are "indicative of the creeping problem that we are all worried about with our overall weather satellite infrastructure," said Shepherd, who is also a professor and research meteorologist at the University of Georgia.
The satellite fleets that meteorologists use to monitor severe weather and generate forecasts are aging. Replacements are scheduled to launch beginning in 2015, but between now and then there is growing concern "that we are going to end up with gaps in our coverage," Shepherd said.
Renkevens said the agency is "doing the best we can with what we have, trying to make it last as long as we can, not only for more data for the users, but of course the benefit of the taxpayer."
A satellite image provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a view from space of the city of Sioux Falls, S.D., as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on Mar. 30, 2013.
By Dirk Lammers, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A new satellite hovering nearly 450 miles above the Earth appears to working flawlessly as it embarks on a 10-year mission to document the planet's surface, scientists and engineers at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science Center said Monday.
Landsat 8 is sending more than 400 data-filled images per day back to the EROS center north of Sioux Falls, where they will be archived and made available for free download by scientists or anyone else who's interested.
The center's mission requires images to be publicly available within 48 hours of their capture, those most will be ready within 24 hours, said project scientist Tom Loveland.
The new orbiter has several advantages over its still-functioning predecessor Landsat 7, which captures just 250 images a day. Landsat 8 also boasts two new spectral bands, one to see deeper into oceans, lakes and rivers and another to detect cirrus clouds and correct for atmospheric effects, Loveland said.
The new satellite's infrared band is split into two, allowing for more accurate surface temperature readings, he added.
"It should really make a difference in our ability to map and characterize changes going on in the surface of the Earth," Loveland said.
NASA launched Landsat 8 into space in February. Since then, teams have been running it through a barrage of tests before placing the satellite into orbit 438 miles above the planet's surface.
"The spacecraft has been extremely healthy," said Jim Nelson, ground systems manager. "The instruments have performed really well."
The EROS Center, the main federal repository for satellite images, will officially take over the mission May 30 from NASA.
Since 1972, Landsat satellites have been continuously snapping pictures across the globe as part of a 40-year mission to document the planet.
Landsat 8, which is about the size of UPS truck with a 30-foot-long deployed sheet of solar panels, is stocked with a 10-year supply of fuel. It travels at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.
Landsat 8 will work in tandem with Landsat 7, launched in 1999, to take pictures of each inch of the planet's surface every eight days. Landsat 7 continues to operate despite a faulty scan line corrector that leaves zigzag gaps in some images.
Dirk Lammers / AP
Jim Nelson, ground systems manager with the U.S. Geological Survey, shows a model of the Landsat 8 satellite at the USGS EROS Center near Sioux Falls, S.D.
Landsat 5, which dates back to 1984, worked decades past its expected mission end but began failing in November. Landsat 6 never reached orbit after its 1993 launch because of a ruptured manifold.
Nelson said the EROS Center has been preparing for the wave of new data, upgrading its ground station near Sioux Falls as well as partner facilities in Alaska and Norway.
It also overhauled its data processing and storage systems, "so we can get as much data as possible online for the users to get direct access to," Nelson said.
Loveland said there's a huge demand for the images in the scientific community, giving an example of a recent Brazilian Remote Sensing Symposium that drew more than 800 people looking to tap into the data.
"There's a great deal of planning going on from people ready to use the images," Loveland said.
The center used to charge for the images, but for years now, they've been free.
"When you put all this free stuff in universities, innovation happens," Loveland said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The apparent destruction of a tiny Russian satellite by a piece of Chinese space junk probably won't result in legal action against China, experts say.
The satellite and space junk crash involved Russia's Ball Lens In The Space nanosatellite, or BLITS, which likely collided on Jan. 22 with a piece of orbital debris spawned by a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) test that destroyed a defunct weather satellite known as FY-1C.
China could technically be held responsible for the current state of the 16-pound (7.5 kilograms) BLITS satellite under 1972's Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, analysts point out.
"The Russian Federation, if it decided to open a diplomatic channel to China making a claim under the second scenario of the Liability Convention, would have to show that China was negligent in producing the fragment that struck BLITS and that there was no way that the Russian Federation could have avoided the collision," Michael Listner, of the New Hampshire-based firm Space Law & Policy Solutions, told Space.com. [Watch the Animation: Russian Satellite Hit by Space Junk]
But Russia is unlikely to go down this road, Listner said, since BLITS — which was being tracked as part of an experimental campaign on precision satellite laser ranging — was relatively inexpensive compared to larger, more complex satellites.
Furthermore, China and Russia are currently are engaged in geopolitical cooperation, he added, and opening a can of worms over a nanosatellite probably wouldn’t benefit either nation politically.
If Russia decides to go ahead with a claim and diplomatic negotiations don't result in a settlement, the matter could end up in court. But Russia may have a tough time prevailing in a lawsuit, said Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation, an organization dedicated to the peaceful use of outer space.
First of all, Russia would have to show that the FY-1C piece did indeed cause whatever damage BLITS has sustained. The Russians have a good system for tracking space junk and other objects in low-Earth orbit, but it would probably be difficult for them to prove this claim with absolute certainty, Weeden said.
Russia would also need to demonstrate that China was at fault in the collision, and that could be another tall order.
"There's never been a court case on this topic, and there's no standard for what 'fault' or 'negligence' is in regard to collisions in space," Weeden told Space.com via email, stressing that he is not a lawyer. "I know lawyers who could probably argue that China is at fault because they deliberately destroyed the FY-1C in an ASAT test, but plenty of other lawyers who could argue that since there have been 6 years of natural forces acting on the orbit of the piece of Chinese debris, it was actually caused by force majeure."
"All of that means it's extremely unlikely anything definitive will come of this from some sort of lawsuit," he added.
There is a precedent for damages being paid out under the Liability Convention of 1972, Weeden pointed out. Canada sought $6 million in compensation after the Soviet Union's nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite crashed in 1978, spreading radioactive material across a wide swath of northwestern Canada.
The Soviet Union eventually paid $3 million after diplomatic negotiations. (The case never went to court.)
If Russia does decide to press a claim against China for the BLITS crash, it needs to do so by Jan. 22, 2014, Listner said, since the statute of limitations is one year for such cases.
A small Russian spacecraft in orbit appears to have been struck by Chinese space junk from a 2007 anti-satellite test, likely damaging the Russian craft, possibly severely, SPACE.com has learned.
The space collision appears to have occurred on Jan. 22, when a chunk of China's Fengyun 1C satellite, which was intentionally destroyed by that country in a 2007 anti-satellite demonstration, struck the Russian spacecraft, according to an analysis by the Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
CSSI technical program manager T.S. Kelso reported that the collision involved the Chinese space junk and Russia's small Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) retroreflector satellite, a 17-pound spacecraft. The Fengyun 1C satellite debris was created during China's anti-satellite test on Jan. 11, 2007, and has posed a threat to satellites and crewed spacecraft ever since.
It is not immediately clear whether the satellite is merely wounded or completely incapacitated.
The space collision is the second substantial in-space accident between an active spacecraft and a defunct satellite or piece of space debris. In February 2009, a U.S. communications satellite was destroyed when it was hit by a defunct Russian military satellite, creating a vast debris cloud in orbit.
Tiny Russian satellite hit The BLITS satellite is a nanosatellite consisting of two outer hemispheres made of a low-refraction-index glass, and an inner ball lens made of a high-refraction-index glass. It was launched in 2009 as a secondary payload on a Russian rocket and tracked by the International Laser Ranging Service for precision satellite laser-ranging experiments.
In addition to noticing the satellite's change in orbit, Yurasov and Nazarenko also detected changes in the spacecraft's spin velocity and attitude. [Worst Space Debris Events of All Time]
Satellite laser ranging uses short-pulse lasers and state-of-the-art optical receivers and timing electronics to measure the two-way time of flight (and hence distance) from ground stations to retroreflector arrays on Earth orbiting satellites.
On Feb. 28, the International Laser Ranging Service confirmed that the BLITS nanosatellite had collided with a piece of space debris. "As a result, an abrupt change occurred of the BLITS orbit parameters (a decrease of the orbiting period)," ILRS officials explained.
Besides this, as could be seen from SLR station photometrical observation results, the BLITS spin period had changed from 5.6 seconds before collision to 2.1 seconds after collision. The ILRS Central Bureau is based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
A change in orbits The analysis by Russian scientists found that the orbital change on the BLITS satellite occurred on Jan. 22 at 2:57 a.m. EST (0757 GMT).
"They requested help in determining whether these changes might have been the result of a collision with another object in orbit," the CSSI's Kelso explained in a blog post on the Analytical Graphics, Inc. website, which analyzed the crash.
Starting from the hypothesis that an object capable of causing this change in the orbit of BLITS might be large enough to be tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, CSSI reviewed its own Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space, which is an archived database of potential space debris threats.
That review discovered only one close approach with another object, which, although it was supposed to be quite distant, occurred for the BLITS satellite on Jan. 22.
"Although the predicted distance would seem to preclude a collision, the fact that the close approach occurred within 10 seconds of the estimated change in orbit made it appear likely that this piece of Fengyun 1C debris actually collided with BLITS," Kelso wrote.
The CSSI is continuing to work with Yurasov and Nazarenko to further assess the circumstances of this likely collision.
More review needed Kelso told SPACE.com that he is trying to address technical questions on this event, such as whether the individual masses of the pieces can be determined to assess how large a piece might have come off of the BLITS satellite.
Kelso said that the U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center released on March 3 the first two-line element set (TLE) — a data format used to convey sets of orbital elements that describe the orbits of Earth-orbiting satellites — for debris associated with BLITS. That information further confirms CSSI’s analysis, Kelso said.
The threat of space debris to satellites and crewed spacecraft orbiting Earth has been a growing problem. There are thought to be about 600,000 objects larger than 1 cm (0.39 inches) in diameter orbiting Earth, and at least 16,000 larger than 10 cm (3.9 inches), space debris trackers have said.
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookand Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.
Fresh ash coats the flanks of remote Paluweh volcano in Indonesia in an image from space captured Tuesday by NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.
The stratovolcano erupted on Feb. 2 and 3, sending superheated gas and rock -- a fast-moving plume called a pyroclastic flow -- racing to the sea. The flow's brownish-gray scar is visible in the natural-color image snapped by the satellite's Advanced Land Imager (ALI). A tongue of debris extends into the sea at the base of the flow.
Paluweh volcano (also known as Rokatenda) is on the northern part of Palue Island. Most of the island remains covered in green vegetation, but ash ejected during the eruption has destroyed many of the island's crops, NASA's Earth Observatory reported.
The island has about 10,000 people, living in eight villages. Several of the villages are threatened by the eruption, according to VolcanoDiscovery.com. The report cites an analysis published by the Indonesian Volcanological Survey that concludes the eruption caused the collapse of about 25 percent of the volume of the volcano's dome, about 35 million cubic feet (1 million cubic meters). Should the dome continue to grow, a future collapse could send a pyroclastic flow into the villages, the report concludes.
The volcano's last eruption had been in 1985, according to the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program. Beginning last October, the volcano sent out warnings, with an increase in small earthquakes and ash ejected from the summit, the Earth Observatory said.
The payload fairing containing the Landsat Data Continuity Mission spacecraft arrives at Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-3E where it will be hoisted atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V for launch. Image released Jan 25, 2013.
NASA is gearing up for the Monday launch of an Earth-observation satellite that will continue a celebrated 40-year project to monitor our planet's surface from space.
The Landsat Data Continuity Mission is slated to blast off Monday at 1:02 p.m. EST (1802 GMT/10:02 a.m. PST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The LDCM satellite is the eighth overall in the Landsat program, which has been scrutinizing Earth from orbit continuously since Landsat 1 launched in 1972.
Mission team members call LDCM the most advanced and capable Landsat spacecraft ever built. It should help the United States and other nations around the world monitor environmental change and better manage their natural resources, they say.
"LDCM will continue to describe the human impact on Earth and the impact of Earth on humanity, which is vital for accommodating seven billion people on our planet," LDCM project manager Ken Schwer, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told reporters Friday during a prelaunch press briefing. [Photos: The Next Landsat Earth-Observing Spacecraft]
The $855 million LDCM mission is a collaboration between NASA and the United States Geological Survey, which will take over operations after the spacecraft's launch and initial checkouts. At that point, the satellite will be renamed Landsat 8.
Landsat 8 will zip around the Earth at an altitude of 438 miles, using two sensors to study the planet's surface in the visible and infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The SUV-size satellite will achieve full Earth coverage every 16 days, though its work will lower this to once per eight days for the program overall. That's because Landsat 8 will fly eight days behind Landsat 7, which launched in 1999 and recently became the only currently operational Landsat spacecraft. (Landsat 5 retired recently after 29 years of service).
Landsat 8's observations will have a broad range of applications, from illuminating the impacts of climate change to monitoring agricultural output to helping authorities respond to natural disasters, scientists said.
"Landsat data is a global resource, empowering nations to individually monitor and report," said Mike Wulder of the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria, British Columbia. "Further, Landsat data allows us to see what the world looks like, and how it has changed over time."
The weather should be good at Vandenberg during Monday's launch window, officials said, but it hasn't been cooperating today. The mission team wanted to perform some ordnance connections on LDCM's launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, earlier Friday, but were unable to do so because of the threat of lightning.
"We've got to be able to get that work done," said NASA launch director Omar Baez. "If we don't, then we'll have to reassess the schedule. But it's too early to tell."
An ultra-small Japanese satellite is being spotted from the ground, thanks to a set of lights that flash brightly in Morse code.
The novel cubesat, known as FITSAT-1, has been orbiting Earth since early October of last year. Though it tips the scales at less than 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms), FITSAT-1's powerful light-emitting diodes (LEDs) make it a compelling target for skywatchers.
"As long as the LEDs are active, then you will be able to see it using binoculars," veteran Canadian satellite watcher Kevin Fetter told Space.com
An artificial star FITSAT-1 was built at Japan’s Fukuoka Institute of Technology. The tiny spacecraft is also called Niwaka, after "Hakata Niwaka," an improvised performance of traditional Japanese comedies with masks.
Flashing FITSAT-1 was built by Japan's Fukuoka Institute of Technology.
To cast FITSAT-1 and two other cubesats off into space, Hoshide used the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer that was attached to the Japanese Kibo module’s robotic arm.
FITSAT-1’s orbit is taking it between 51.6 degrees south latitude and 51.6 degrees north latitude. The cubesat contains a neodymium magnet that forces it to point always to magnetic north, like a compass.
Working well A successful test of FITSAT-1's LED optical beacon took place over Japan on Dec. 11.
"All functions of FITSAT-1 are sound and work very well," said Takushi Tanaka, leader of the project at the Fukuoka Institute of Technology.
Images of the blinking FITSAT-1 have been taken in Japan, Germany and the United States, Tanaka told Space.com. The tiny spacecraft has succeeded in its primary goal of investigating optical communication techniques for satellites, he said.
For Niwaka to be visible, the night sky must be dark enough that a ground observer can see the Milky Way, Tanaka has said. Also, many people are unaware that they have succeeded in photographing the fleeting, flashing light until they've magnified and closely inspected their images.
The FITSAT-1 team attempts to accommodate skywatchers who want to catch a glimpse of the little satellite.
"As observing the light is not so easy, we will flash the light on requests. If you have a plan for observing the light, please advise me (of) the time and date with your latitude and longitude," Tanaka wrote on the FITSAT-1 website. "Now we have a plan for flashing at 09:25:00 on 9th Feb. for the west coast of USA."
Amateurs of space Tanaka is no aerospace specialist. He's a professor of computer science and engineering, with research interests that specialize in artificial intelligence, language processing, logic programming and robot soccer, in addition to cubesats.
The backgrounds of Tanaka and his team make Niwaka pretty special, the researcher said.
"Most cubesats are developed by some kind of space department of a university, while FITSAT-1 is developed by amateurs of space." Tanaka said.
"Though I do not have much knowledge about space," he added, "I am a ham radio (devotee) since the age of the vacuum tube."
Editor's Note: If you capture a great photo of Japan's FITSAT-1 in the night sky, or any other stargazing sight, and want to share it with Space.com, send the images, comments and your name and viewing location to managing editor Tariq Malik at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for Space.com since 1999. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.
China may be gearing up to perform a controversial anti-satellite test this month, perhaps in the next week or two, some experts say.
For several months, rumors have been circulating within the United States defense and intelligence communities that a Chinese anti-satellite test is imminent, says Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists. It could even be conducted on Jan. 11, the date on which China performed ASAT operations in both 2007 and 2010.
"Given these high-level administration concerns, and past Chinese practice, there seems to be a strong possibility China will conduct an ASAT test within the next few weeks," Kulacki wrote in a blog post Jan. 4. "What kind of test and what the target might be is unclear."
In the 2007 test, China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites at an altitude of 530 miles, spawning about 3,000 new pieces of space junk. The 2010 operation used similar technology to take out an object that was not in orbit.
The upcoming ASAT test — if China is indeed planning one — may not necessarily be so destructive, Kulacki says. [ Top 10 Space Weapons ]
"There are different types of technologies that can be used as ASAT weapons, and a satellite may not be destroyed at all," he wrote. "The planned test could be of the same technology as the 2007 and 2010 tests but in a missile defense or flyby mode, or a test of technology that doesn’t destroy a satellite."
Some U.S. officials suspect China may want to go higher than it did in either 2007 or 2010, targeting an object 12,000 miles or so above Earth's surface. This ability to reach medium-Earth orbit (MEO) could theoretically put the constellation of U.S. Global Positioning System navigational satellites at risk.
"But there are good reasons for China not to destroy a satellite at this orbit, including that China plans to use this part of space," Kulacki wrote. "Creating debris, as it now understands, would threaten its own satellites. Over the next several years, China plans to place more than 20 new navigational satellites in MEO."
Kulacki urges the Obama Administration to attempt to dissuade China from conducting any more destructive ASAT tests. Both the United States and the Soviet Union abandoned such tests as their space programs matured, he notes.
"Hopefully, China will eventually come to a similar conclusion," Kulacki wrote. "Beginning a meaningful bilateral dialogue on space security between the United States and China could hasten the day."
This picture from DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite shows the launch pad at the Tongchang-ri Launch Facility in North Korea, as seen on April 9. Three dark-colored support vehicles are lined up on the launch apron. The rail-mounted mobile launch platform is toward the bottom of the pad, with an exhaust deflector that's designed to deal with the hot blast of launch.
While North Korean officials were showing off their preparations for a controversial satellite launch, DigitalGlobe's Quickbird satellite was snapping high-resolution pictures of the scene from far above. The images reveal how far the North Koreans have come — and how much can be gleaned about their intentions from orbit.
DigitalGlobe is a commercial satellite imagery provider, and QuickBird can provide pictures at a resolution of a half-meter (20 inches) per pixel. But you can bet that U.S. intelligence agencies are getting significantly better views of the Tongchang-ri Launch Center from their satellites.
North Korea is due to launch its Unha-3 ("Milky Way 3") rocket anytime between now and April 16, ostensibly to send an Earth-observing satellite known as Kwangmyongsong-3 ("Bright Shining Star 3") into a pole-to-pole orbit. The United States and its allies worry that the launch is really more of a test of North Korea's capability to launch intercontinental missiles as weapons.
International journalists, including a team from NBC News, were invited to visit the secretive hard-line communist nation this week for an on-the-ground assessment of the space mission. NBC News space analyst James Oberg said that in its current configuration, the booster is "not a military missile ... but it's darn close."
"This rocket is not a weapon, but it's maybe 98 percent of one," Oberg said. "It can be converted all too easily and all too frighteningly into a weapon, and they don't need it."
AmericaSpace's Craig Covault said the Tongchang-ri facility is clearly built to handle rockets much larger than the Unha-3. He quoted U.S. and South Korean intelligence analysts as saying they believe the complex could be used for tests of North Korea's "Satan" long-range ballistic missile, as well as a North Korean-Iranian booster with up to six engines clustered in the first stage.
"Iran and possibly North Korea plan to use the large new space launch booster to send Iranian and North Korean astronauts into space," Covault wrote. He lays out a Korean-Iranian missile development program that sounds positively scary.
North Korea might have been hoping that this week's visit by journalists would put Washington's fears to rest. But based on the feedback so far, it doesn't sound as if that'll be the case.
Here's tonight's report from NBC News' Richard Engel in Pyongyang:
A North Korean satellite is poised to launch to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, but there are some doubts over whether it will ever go into orbit. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
... Here's a computer-generated animation of the expected launch from Analytical Graphics Inc.:
This animation from AGI shows the launch and possible path of the Unha-3 long-range rocket, aimed at putting the Kwangmongsong-3 satellite into orbit. Video courtesy of Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI). Visit http://agi.com/northkorea for additional resources.
... And here are more satellite pictures from DigitalGlobe:
An orbital view from DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite shows North Korea's Tongchang-ri Launch Facility from an altitude of 420 miles (680 kilometers).
James Oberg / msnbc.com (left) / DigitalGlobe (right)
The map of the Tongchang-ri Launch Facility that was displayed by the North Koreans during a news briefing (left) is compared with the overhead view from DigitalGlobe (right). The orientation of the satellite picture has been rotated to approximate the orientation of the map.
This satellite view shows the horizontal processing building at the Tongchang-ri Launch Facility in North Korea, with a support vehicle parked in the dark-colored parking lot below the building.
This DigitalGlobe satellite image, taken from orbit on April 9, shows the Tongchang-ri Launch Facility in North Korea. The structure in the lower part of the frame is known as the high-bay processing building, and the structures in the upper pat are housing facilities. VIP housing is at leff.
This new "Blue Marble" image of Earth was produced by the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite: Suomi NPP. The composite image was assembled from image data captured from a number of swaths of Earth's surface on Jan. 4. The NPP satellite was renamed "Suomi NPP" on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin, who is considered the father of satellite meteorology.
NASA's "Blue Marble" image is one of the best-known high-resolution pictures of our planet. It's even included as one of the default images for Apple's iPhone. Now NASA has released a brand-new "Blue Marble 2012," based on image data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP, the most recently launched Earth-observing satellite.
The Suomi spacecraft was known as the NPOESS Preparatory Project, or NPP, when it was launched last October. This week it was renamed the Suomi NPP — or Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership — to honor the late Verner. E. Suomi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who became known as the father of satellite meteorology. The $1.5 billion mission is a partnership involving NASA as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force.
Suomi is the first of a new generation of satellites that will provide data for climate research as well as weather prediction. It carries five instruments on board, and the biggest and most important of the five is the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS. This composite image was built up from swaths of surface image data collected on Jan. 4.