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An Analysis of North Korea’s Unha-2 Launch Vehicle

North Korea has announced that it will attempt to launch a satellite into orbit in early April 2009 using its Unha-2 launcher. Few details are known about the launch vehicle since it has not been successfully flight tested. This paper attempts to model North Korea's launch vehicle based on publicly available information, assuming that it uses a similar level of technology as past North Korean missiles. This analysis suggests the launcher could place a payload of about 100 kg into orbit at 400 km altitude. Moreover, if used as a ballistic missile, it may be able to carry a 500 kg payload to a range of roughly 9,000 km, and a 1,000 kg payload 6,000 km; however, the missile structure may not be able to accommodate such a large increase in payload mass. While this would be a significant increase in range over North Korea's current missiles, it does not represent a true intercontinental nuclear delivery capability since developing a first generation warhead and heatshield with a mass of 500 kg or less is likely to be a significant challenge for North Korea.

The paper then looks at the kind of technical improvements that could be made to a launcher that would allow it to place several times as much mass in orbit, and that would increase the payload and range capability if used as a ballistic missile. It is unclear whether North Korea has the technical capability to take these steps. Information from the upcoming launch will provide information that may help to clarify the actual capabilities of the launcher.

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