Could North Korea use its missiles to fill orbital space with debris?


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Link here. While most of the discussion about the missile threat from North Korea has focused on the possibility of it detonating a nuclear bomb high enough to cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would disable most electronic equipment, this article notes that they could much more easily do almost as much harm by simply using their ballistic missiles to fill low-Earth-orbit (LEO) space with space junk, thus disabling much of the world’s military surveillance and reconnaissance satellites.

I am not sure how much of a threat this might be, but I find the article somewhat worrisome because it proposes something that seems quite reasonable and doable, with the technology that North Korea appears to have, right this minute.

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12 comments

  • wayne

    Certainly sounds doable, but I’m (initially) doubting how reasonable it is, even from a North Korean perspective.

    pivoting slightly for excellent insight into What Makes the Nork’s, Tick.;
    North Korea in One Lesson:
    Michael Malice
    https://youtu.be/fm1CV960vTE
    56:47

  • wayne

    Pivoting even further; one of the William-Shatner-narrates, nuclear-bomb & rocket movies. Absolutely amazing assemblage of archival photography, crisp & clean.

    ‘Nukes In Space’
    https://youtu.be/9Y8UDupb1Gg
    (51:30)

  • ken anthony

    How could any nation respond if they sent a full payload of BBs into orbit?

  • wayne

    ken–
    I’d advocate a retaliatory air-burs, over their Capital city! (W-88 warhead) But then again I advocate a pre-emptive strike as it is.

    “The power of the sun, in the palm of my hands…”
    https://youtu.be/0DsKaphCrFA?t=80

    On a more serious note however– what sort of sized debris-cloud, would a few tons of ball-bearing’s produce?

    I tend to think rocket-man wouldn’t go to all this trouble, just to create a giant fragmentation grenade.
    On the flipside, It wouldn’t surprise me at all, if he did something like that. He’s betting nobody will care or respond, and he might be correct on that point.
    (Only Bob Corker can save us by cutting the correct-deal!)

    Clarification: The “Nukes in Space” video I reference above, I believe the correct title is “The Rainbow Bombs.”

  • Phill O

    One must realize what the origins of this threat truly are: Bill Clinton gave NK megabucks for it to back off of nuclear technology. Rewarding that bad performance with cash (seems the way Clintons think for themselves) has lead the NKs to think they can do it again, and again and again.

    The doctrine of appeasement makes things much more difficult down the road. The doctrine of appeasement has been applied by SK as well as all the European states (and Canada). This makes the current administration much more difficult, partly because the purse is empty.

  • Cotour

    Related:

    http://disasterpreparer.com/emp-cloth/

    I came uopn this and forwarded it to my cousin who has a company that makes canvas products and thought that it might be an interesting addition to his product line. If the N. Korean situation just festers and is never resolved this type of product may become more and more in demand.

  • wayne

    Phil–
    highly recommend anything from Victor Davis Hanson, on the “loss of deterrence.” (He has a new book out on WW2.)

    Cotour–
    >interesting product! That is a good cousin, to have in the Family!
    related: See “Faraday Cage,” for protecting electronics. (I have a neighbor who wired up his mini-barn a few years ago.)

    Pivoting to past history–
    JFK delivers Cuban missile speech
    October 22, 1962
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VvE_DZXtE8
    18:42

    Concurrently, Lots-o-Space-Activity (Military & Civilian) during this general time period in 1962, including high-altitude nuke testing & live-fire testing of ICBM’s by both the USA & USSR.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Appeasement. Kipling called it ” paying the Danegeld” and once you pay it you never get rid of the Dane.

  • Dick Eagleson

    It requires a rocket capable of boosting a payload to orbit to do this. Based on what I’ve read to-date, the Norks only seem to have two rockets that can do this. Payload capacity would be greatest to LEO with declining payload capability to higher orbital altitudes. So one could haul more “B-B’s” to lower orbits, but said B-B’s would also fall out of orbit fastest there.

    The number of launch sites capable of handling the Nork missiles with even marginal orbital reach is not large. Massive salvo fire is not an option. And as soon as even one such mission went up, its purpose would be quickly apparent given the scrutiny NORK missile launches attract from U.S. military assets these days. A conventional explosive charge used to spread the notional B-B’s would be visible to U.S. missile launch warning and tracking assets.

    After that, the B-2’s come in from Guam and the Tomahawks come in from pretty much everywhere and blow every known fixed launch site in the DPRK to smithereens, plus any mobile ones that haven’t moved since they were last imaged. And as much else that is rocket-related and can be identified in advance as possible.

  • wodun

    Since they don’t have any space based assets, cutting off access could suit them but would any of their ICBM’s have to cross the debris field?

  • Edward

    Dick Eagleson wrote: “It requires a rocket capable of boosting a payload to orbit to do this.

    Point well taken, with emphasis on the words “to orbit.” If the debris is not placed in orbit, then it will fall back before it gets to do much or any damage. Several military satellites are in higher orbits, such as 10,000 miles. GPS is in a 12,000 mile orbit. It looks like North Korea is not yet capable of contaminating those orbits.

    Depending upon what legacy Kim Jong Un wants to have, he probably will not do this. China got a scolding and a terrible reputation for the test that they did, as mentioned in the article. Also, Kim’s friend, China, would be angry with him if he did such a thing, as China would be just as locked out as the countries that he would want to harm.

    Then there is the time delay in the destruction of military satellites. If North Korea wants to disable military satellites “now,” then they would need to use interceptors, as China’s test did, not debris. The Kessler Syndrome does not work as fast as depicted in the movie “Gravity.” (Actually, very little works as depicted in that movie, but other than that it is a nice man-against-the-elements movie and we root for Sandra and George as they try to save themselves and each other.) Thus North Korea would only get a bad reputation with no immediate benefit.

  • I appreciate the input here by knowledgeable engineers. I had a suspicion that this threat from North Korea, as outlined in the article, might be overstated, but couldn’t spot the holes. Dick Eagleson and Edward have pointed them out, very ably.

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