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Doubts cast over North Korean satellite

A NORTH Korean satellite launched into space last week appears to be malfunctioning but could remain in orbit for several years, a leading spaceflight expert has said.

While North Korea says the satellite is working, data from trackers in South Africa and Britain suggest the brightness of the satellite has been fluctuating, which indicates it is tumbling as it orbits. That is most likely to mean a malfunction in the probe’s stabilisers because it was designed to constantly point toward the Earth.

Even so, the probe is continuing to complete orbits and could do so for several years, said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics yesterday. McDowell said that as the cause of the malfunction remains unclear, it is conceivable that North Korea could determine how to fix it and regain control.

“The best guess at this point is that it is probably broken,” he said. “It is certainly continuing to complete orbits. It is up there and it will be up there for years. But the thing is sort of twirling around. It seems to me the satellite is not working.”

North Korea has hailed the launch as a gift to the nation’s late leader, Kim Jong Il, and proof that his young son, Kim Jong Un, has the strength and vision to lead the country.

 

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