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An image released on North Korean television of the first experimental satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1
Mission type Technology
Operator KCST
Mission duration Launch failure
Start of mission
Launch date 31 August 1998, 03:07 (1998-08-31UTC03:07Z) UTC
Rocket Paektusan
Launch site Tonghae
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Perigee 218.82 kilometres (135.97 mi)
Apogee 6,978.2 kilometres (4,336.1 mi)
Inclination 40.6 minutes
Period 165 minutes, 6 seconds
Epoch Claimed

Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 or Gwangmyeongseong-1 (Chosungul: 광명성 1호, Hanja: 光明星 1號, meaning Bright Star 1) was a satellite launched by North Korea on 31 August 1998. While the North Korean government claimed that the launch was successful, no objects were ever tracked in orbit from the launch,[1] and outside North Korea it is considered to have been a failure.[2] It was the first satellite to be launched as part of the Kwangmyŏngsŏng program, and the first satellite that North Korea attempted to launch.

It was launched from Musudan-ri using a Paektusan rocket, at 03:07 GMT on 31 August 1998, a few days before the 50th anniversary of North Korea's independence from Japan. On 4 September, the Korean Central News Agency announced that the satellite had successfully been placed into low Earth orbit.

The China National Space Administration was involved in the development of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1, which had a 72-faced polyhedral shape, similar to Dong Fang Hong I, the first Chinese satellite.[3] The mass of the satellite is unclear, with estimates ranging from 6 kilograms (13 lb) to 170 kilograms (370 lb).


The names "Paektusan" and "Kwangmyŏngsŏng" are richly symbolic for Korean nationalism and the Kim family cult. Paektusan (Mount Paektu) is the highest mountain in Korea (North and South) and is located on the border with China. According to Korean nationalist mythology, Tangun, the mythical founder of Korea, was born on the mountain in 2333 BC.[4] And according to DPRK hagiographic propaganda, the mountain is sacred as the home of Kim Il-sŏng’s anti-Japanese guerrilla base, as well as the birthplace of Kim Jong il. Even though Kim Jong-il was born in the former Soviet Far East near Khabarovsk, DPRK sources claim Kim was born on Mount Paektu, and on that day a bright lode star (kwangmyŏngsŏng) appeared in the sky, so everyone knew a new general had been born.


In designing the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1, North Korea received considerable assistance from the China's Academy of Launch Technology. This assistance has continued with the development of the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite project. It may also extend to additional satellites, including a crude reconnaissance satellite. Thus, the photographs published after the launch showed a satellite similar in shape with a 72-faced polyhedron, to the first Chinese satellite, Dong Fang Hong I, itself very similar to Telstar 1, though estimations of the mass and therefore the size of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 differed according to the various sources, ranging from 6 kg to 170 kg (as compared to the 173 kg and 100 cm × 100 cm × 100 cm of the DFH-1).[5]


On 7 August 1998, scientific personnel began to arrive at the Musudan-ri test site to prepare for a satellite launch. Two weeks later, Korean People's Navy vessels were deployed into the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea) to track the rocket during its ascent to orbit. The launch was originally scheduled for an evening launch window on 30 August, in order to provide favorable conditions for observing the launch. Due to adverse weather, the window was extended, and launch occurred at 03:07 GMT (12:07 local time),[1] by which time the weather had improved.

By mid-August, U.S. intelligence had detected activity consistent with preparation and support of a missile flight test, and on 31 August, North Korea launched the Paektusan-1 in an attempt to place a small satellite into earth orbit. U.S. intelligence observed the preparations for the launch, so the timing was not a surprise; however, most analysts did not expect the missile to be configured as a space launch vehicle with a third stage. The United States initially considered the launch a test of intercontinental ballistic missile technology, but it later noted that the rocket's trajectory indicated an orbital launch attempt.[1] [6]

It is thought that the Paektusan-1 solid propellant third stage both demonstrated a near full duration burn and the spin up of the stage and satellite along its longitudinal axis. However, the third stage solid motor ruptured, de-orbiting the satellite almost immediately after orbital insertion while achieving orbital velocity. U.S. officials said the launching represented North Korea's interests to build longer-range missiles.[6]

Despite the launch failure, the DPRK reported Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 as a total success,.[2][7] with the government counting its supposed orbital passes and publishing statements of praise from international supporters.


North Korea

The 31 August 1998, Paektusan-1 launch was significant for North Korean domestic politics.[8] North Korean media did not announce the test until 4 September, one day before the Supreme People’s Assembly amended the DPRK Constitution to usher in the Kim Jong-il era. On 2 September, the official spokesman of the consulate general of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Nakhodka has refused to comment to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS on the launching of a medium-range missile from the territory of his country. What is more, he said that at the consulate general itself they had learned of the launching from the media.[9] The DPRK Socialist Constitution declared Kim Il-sŏng "eternal president of the DPRK" and elevated the status of the National Defense Commission, which is chaired by Kim Chŏng-il. In the days before and after the attempted satellite launch, DPRK media often made references to the doctrine of Kangsŏngdaeguk (national strength and prosperity) since satellite launches and missiles represent the highest levels of technology.

On 13 September, the North Korean media reported that the satellite had completed its 100th orbit, and that it was in an elliptical medium Earth orbit with a perigee of 218.82 kilometres (135.97 mi) and apogee of 6,978.2 kilometres (4,336.1 mi) with a period of 165 minutes and 6 seconds.[1] North Korea stated that the satellite carried transmitters which broadcast the "Song of General Kim Il-sung", the "Song of General Kim Jong-il" and "Juche Korea" in morse code, on a frequency of 27 MHz.[1] It also claimed that the spacecraft returned data on the temperature and pressure in space, and the conditions of its power source.

People's Republic of China

China stated that it had no prior knowledge of the launch and has promised the United States that it will help keep "nuclear missiles out of North Korea".[10] However, the Chinese government had expressed concern over the proposed joint US-Japanese Theater Missile Defense (TMD) plan and warned that, "Japan and the United States should exercise restraint and refrain from doing anything that may cause tensions in the region".[11]


According to the head of Strategic Missile Troops Vladimir Yakovlev "in accordance with international agreements" North Korea warned Russia of the rocket launch. Yakovlev also reported that an accident during the launch caused the rocket to change its trajectory and therefore not enter the tracking zone of Russian monitoring systems.[12] However, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contradicted Yakovlev's report. Ministry sources said that no agreements on missile launch warnings exist between Russian and North Korea, and that no one was notified about the test ahead of time.[13] A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that although North Korea's missile launch concerned Moscow, Russia would like to have normal, friendly relations with North Korea.[14]

South Korea

South Korea's response was relatively muted. In his U.N speech on 25 September 1998, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Hong Soon-young called on the global community to make a concerted effort to deter North Korea from developing, testing, and exporting missiles. He also released a joint press statement with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright condemning North Korea's missile launch, but reaffirming support for the 1994 Agreed Framework.[15]

United States

On 10 September, the United States announced a package of agreements aimed at defusing tensions and resuming the stalled Four Party Talks on the Korean Peninsula[16] U.S President Bill Clinton used his executive authority to circumvent congressional opposition to the 1994 Agreed Framework by shifting $15 million to fund the purchase of 150,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for North Korea.[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Wade, Mark. "Kwangmyongsong 1". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 6 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "U.S. Calls North Korean Rocket a Failed Satellite". New York Times. 15 September 1998. Retrieved 5 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Wade, Mark. "Kwangmyongsong". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 6 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Brue Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, pp. 22-25. North Korea claims to have discovered Tangun’s remains in Pyongyang in 1993, and has since built a tomb for him on the outskirts of Pyongyang. See "North, South Commemorate Accession Day of Nation’s Founder," The People’s Korea, 12 October 2002, pp. 1-2,
  5. "一九九六-二〇〇五年全球运载火箭发射概况". 中国空间技术研究院. 25 July 2006. Retrieved 28 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 "A North Korean Satellite? U.S. Is Searching". New York Times. 6 September 1998. Retrieved 6 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "North Korea’s Space Program Not to Lift off Any Time Soon", RIA Novosti, 19 March 2012
  8. Pinkston, Daniel A. (2006). "North and South Korean Space Development". Astropolitics. 4 (2): 217–219. doi:10.1080/14777620600919168.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Simon Beck, "Beijing 'to Help U.S.' Over North Korean Missiles," South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 17 September 1998
  11. "China Warns U.S, Japan About Missile Defense Agreement," Indian Express (Delhi), 23 September 1998
  12. "North Korea fires missile over Japan", The Guardian, 1 September 1998
  13. Yuriy Golotyuk and Sergey Golotyuk, "Russian Pacific Fleet Scared by Russian Rocket Forces," Russkiy Telegraf, 2 September 1998
  14. "Moscow Analyzes Impact of North Korean Missile Launch on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Situation in the Region," Interfax, 2 September 1998
  15. "Joint Statement on North Korea Issues," Kyodo News Service (Tokyo), 25 September 1998
  16. Jun Kwan-woo, "Pyongyang Agrees to Return to Four-Party Peace Talks", Korea Herald (Seoul), 11 September 1998
  17. Thomas W. Lippman, "Perry May be Named to Try to Salvage Pact with N. Korea," Washington Post, 4 October 1998, p.27