Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Of These Is Wrong

Either North Korea successfully placed a "weather satellite" in pole-to-pole orbit around the earth or it's spinning wildly out of control and could crash at any moment.
We report, you duck and cover.
This story is less important for the content -- nearly every nation on the planet, including Russia but not China, have forcefully condemned the launch -- and more important for the interesting spin (pardon the pun) the US is putting on it.
Let's assume for a moment that, indeed, the satellite is wildly out of control. So the US is warning the world to keep an eye out. If this was confirmed by anyone else (South Korea is closely tracking the launch, and even picked up the first stage as it splashed down for further examination,) then the US is prudently advising the world of a potential hazard, much like the US warned about SpaceLab back in the 70s, and Russia about its satellite in 2009.
But there's been no independent confirmation. Which makes the US statement curious, to say the least.
So now let's assume it's all smoke. What is the process for making such a statement in the first place?
While the rocket in question has the apparent capacity to reach the US mainland, barely, and certainly has the range to create havoc among our eastern allies, mocking North Korea's technology seems a little beneath the world's greatest superpower, a nation with a bigger military than the next ten nations combined.
However, this seems to be shaping up to be a war by proxy, if "war" might be an overstatement. Perhaps another cold war would be a better way to put it.
It seems pretty clear that China has been using North Korea as a proving ground for some of their weapons capability, which frees them of any direct responsibility for the launches, but allows them to look like a reasonable moderator in the disputes. It also informs how China has been "in the know" about the development program long before North Korea has revealed its program, piece by piece. The Chinese answers seem a bit too pat, too prepared.
By raising doubts in the minds of the Chinese about the effectiveness of their arms, it forces them back to the drawing board, which may actually result in the Chinese making a blunder in re-development that allows the US to track their activities more closely.
But even that seems a bit of a "small beer" gambit. It smacks of TPing a tree in their front yard.
So ponder this, instead. Perhaps the US has been able to wrestle control of the satellite in some fashion, or to somehow interfere with its operation (e.g. colliding a piece of space junk with it.)
Now the statement starts to make a little more sense. It sends a message that "yes, you'll launch and yes, we'll aggressively defend our, er, spacespace."