Taepodong-2 (Unha-3)

The Taepodong-2 is a three stage, liquid-fueled, militarized version of North Korea’s Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle. It has an estimated range of 10,000 km with a 1,000 kg payload.1

Taepodong-2 At a Glance

Originated From: North Korea
Possessed By: North Korea
Alternate Names:Moksong 2, Paektusan 2, Pekdosan 2, Unha-2, Unha-3
Class: Satellite Launch Vehicle / Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (SLV / ICBM)
Basing: Fixed launched platform
Length: 32 m
Diameter: 2.4 m (first stage), 1.4 m (second second), 0.9 m (third stage)
Launch Weight: 64,300 kg
Payload: Single warhead or satellite, 1,000-1,500 kg
Warhead: Nuclear, biological, chemical or HE
Propulsion: Three-stage liquid
Range: 4,000 – 10,000 km (two stage) 10,000 – 15,000 (three stage)
Status: Tested

taepodong-2The Taepodong 2 is reported to be a three stage, liquid-fueled, militarized version of North Korea’s Unha-3 satellite launch vehicle. It has an estimated range of 10,000 km with a 1,000 kg payload. For some time unclear as to whether the TD-2 was distinct from the Unha series of satellite launch vehicles, but is now generally considered to be the vehicle equipped with a reentry vehicle, as opposed to an orbital satellite.

The Taepodong-2 was first tested in July 2006 and failed. The second test took place in April 2009; the missile travelled about 3,800 km before landing in the Pacific Ocean east of Japan. The third test, in April of 2012, was also a failure. The missile flew a little longer than two minutes before exploding. Both the 2009 and 2012 launches were in the Unha space launch configuration.

The fourth test launch on December 12, 2012 successfully put a satellite, the Kwamongsong-3, into orbit although U.S. defense officials claim the satellite is tumbling.2

The fifth and latest launch occurred on February 7, 2016 and successfully put the Kwamongsong-4 into a sun-synchronous orbit. This satellite was initially tumbling too; however, it appears to have been brought under control.3

The development of the Taepodong-2 is believed to have begun at the same time as the Taepodong-1 in 1990. The Taepodong-2 is larger version of its predecessor the Taepodong-1; roughly 32 meters longer and as much as 2.4 meters wider.4 Pakistan and Iran have been receiving technical assistance on their missile projects that are derivatives of the Taepodong-2 project. Iran’s Shahab-5/6, if in development, is believed to owe much to this North Korean design. It was reported that in 2004, North Korea put the missile up for sale to a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iran.5

Taepodong-2 possibly employs four Nodong engines in its first stage, one Nodong engine in the second stage, and an unknown solid or liquid-fueled single motor in the third stage.6 Other analysis contends that the rocket may use four Nodong engines in its first stage, one Scud engine in the second stage, and R-27 vernier thrusters in the third stage.7 It is believed the liquid-fueled Nodong engines run on a lower energy kerosene based fuel.

Given its size and the requirement for liquid fuel, the Taepodong-2 takes several days to prepare for launch while exposed on a launch pad, making it less suitable for military missions.8 Also, as of June 2016, North Korea has yet to test an ICBM-class re-entry vehicle.

Although challenging, it is still possible that North Korea could use the Taepodong-2 as an ICBM and launch an untested re-entry vehicle in the direst of circumstances.9 Given recent nuclear tests, some analysts speculate that North Korea would use a nuclear warhead. The range is estimated to be in between 4,000 and 10,000 km; however, could extend to much farther, if all three stages of the rocket functioned. The accuracy is unknown, but given the North Korean’s lack of success putting a satellite into the correct orbit, the accuracy of an untested re-entry vehicle is also likely to be poor.10

Sources

  1. “North Korea’s Space Launch: An Initial Assessment,” 38 North, February 9, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/02/jschilling020816/.
  2. “Crippled NKorean Probe Could Orbit for Years,” Associated Press, December 18, 2012, accessed June 15, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/crippled-nkorean-probe-could orbityears?goback=.gde_3433693_member_197139555.
  3. “North Korea Satellite Tumbling in Orbit Again: U.S. Sources,” Reuters, February 18, 2016, accessed June 15, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-satellite-idUSKCN0VR2R3.
  4. Jim O’Halloran, Jane’s Weapons: Strategic: 2015-2016 (United Kingdom: Jane’s Information Group, 2015), 66.
  5. Lennox, Duncan. “Taepo Dong 2.” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). September 21, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012).
  6. Lennox, Duncan. “Taepo Dong 2.” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). September 21, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012).
  7. “North Korea Launches Another Large Rocket: Consequences and Options,” 38 North, February 10, 2016, accessed June 15, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/02/melleman021016/.
  8. “North Korea Launches Another Large Rocket: Consequences and Options,” 38 North, February 10, 2016, accessed June 15, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/02/melleman021016/.
  9. “North Korea’s Space Launch: An Initial Assessment,” 38 North, February 9, 2016, accessed June 15, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/02/jschilling020816/.
  10. Ibid.
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