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
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 + (three stage)
The 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 same 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