Wednesday, December 12, 2012

North Korean satellite/NORAD 39026/KWANGMYSONG 3 first photos taken over Texas

Photographed as it passed just west of Amarillo, Texas tonight. Satellite tracking via

Yeah, I know it isn't much to look at - but it is proof that it is in stable LEO. Next task is to try and find out if it is transmitting. Time to break out the satellite antenna and the spectrum analyzer and listen for it on the next few passes.

This was a "dim" pass - but I spotted it with my night vision lens then set up the camera in it's path. Exposure was 2.5 seconds at 240mm, ISO 1600. I really had to pull up the brightness and contrast in Photoshop to bring it out of "the muck." I also saw lots of meteorites during my search but they looked nothing like this dim dirty snowball. This moved much slower than a meteor. I tracked the satellite on my laptop, which was quite accurate - just about half a minute off - but that could have been due to internet lag time.

Note the time of exposure differs from the orbital data by one hour because I have not reset my camera once we went off daylight savings time.

 I think the little curve on the left of the trail is either shutter bump or accidental movement of the tripod moving just a hair during exposure.

 RAW IMAGE on request by qualified MEDIA.

That bright point of light is a star (don't know which) that became my focus point. I'm guessing it was only illuminated by earthshine. - Steve Douglass

Click to enlarge. 


PHOTO (C) Steve Douglass

Photo (C) Steve Douglass RAW image available on request.

UPDATE: A satellite that North Korea launched on a long-range rocket is orbiting normally, South Korean officials say, following a defiant liftoff that drew a wave of international condemnation.
Washington and its allies are pushing for punishment over the launch, which they say is a test of banned ballistic missile technology.
The launch of a three-stage rocket similar in design to a model capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California raises the stakes in the international standoff over North Korea's expanding atomic arsenal. As Pyongyang refines its technology, its next step may be conducting its third nuclear test, experts warn.
The UN security council, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear programme, condemned Wednesday's launch and said it would urgently consider "an appropriate response". The White House called the launch a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security", and even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.
In Pyongyang, however, pride over the scientific advancement outweighed the fear of greater international isolation and punishment. North Koreans clinked beer mugs and danced in the streets to celebrate.
"It's really good news," Jon Il-gwang told the Associated Press as he and scores of other Pyongyang residents poured into the streets after a noon announcement to celebrate the launch by dancing in the snow. "It clearly testifies that our country has the capability to enter into space."
South Korea's defence ministry said on Thursday that the satellite was orbiting normally at a speed of 4.7 miles (7.6km) per second, though it is not known what mission it is performing. North Korean space officials said the satellite would be used to study crops and weather patterns.
The defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said it usually took about two weeks to determine whether a satellite worked successfully after liftoff. He cited data from the North American Aerospace Defence Command.
Wednesday's launch was North Korea's fifth attempt since 1998. An April launch failed in the first of three stages, raising doubts among outside observers whether North Korea could fix what was wrong in eight months, but those doubts were erased on Wednesday.
The Unha rocket, Korean for "galaxy", blasted off from a launchpad north-west of Pyongyang just three days after North Korea indicated that technical problems might delay the launch.
South Korean navy ships found what appeared to be debris from the first stage rocket in the Yellow Sea and were trying to retrieve them on Thursday, defence officials said. The debris is believed to be a fuel container of the first stage rocket.
The officials said South Korea had no plans to return it to North Korea because the launch violated UN council resolutions.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command confirmed that "initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit".
The launch could leave Pyongyang even more isolated and cut off from much-needed aid and trade.

North Korean satellite may be tumbling - unstable orbit.

By Barbara Starr

There were preliminary signs on Wednesday that North Korea may not be in total control of a satellite less than 24 hours after it was blasted into orbit, a U.S. official told CNN.

"There are some initial indications they might not have full control," the official said of the device that was the payload for North Korea's first successful long-range rocket launch.

The official, who has access to the latest U.S. assessment, declined to be identified by name due to the sensitive nature of the information.

The satellite, described by one U.S. defense official as a rudimentary communications satellite with limited capability, is on a Polar orbit, meaning it is moving between the North and South poles.

Since there are issues about control, the United States is not certain the satellite is in a fully stable orbit.

"We don't know. We are still trying to figure that out," the U.S. official said.

However, he also cautioned the satellite could stay in its relatively low altitude orbit for months before either burning up or falling back to Earth.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alluded to the problem in an interview Wednesday that was to air on CNN's 'Erin Burnett OutFront."

"I think we still have to assess exactly what happened here," Panetta told Burnett in the interview.

Panetta said part of that scrutiny was to look at the final stage that launched the satellite into orbit "to determine whether or not that did work effectively or whether it tumbled into space."

The official cautioned that the North Koreans could resolve whatever technical issues they may be facing. While not necessarily fully handling the satellite, it is not thought to be spinning uncontrollably.

In a key indicator of a potential problem, there was no indication that North Korea's ground control had sent a crucial radio signal to the satellite, the official explained.

That type of signal is expected almost immediately as it is used to order the satellite to deploy solar panels that power its electronics.

UPDATE: By Jim Miklaszewski and Alan Boyle, NBC NewsBy Jim Miklaszewski and Alan Boyle, NBC News

The object that North Korea sent into space on Wednesday appears to be “tumbling out of control” as it orbits the earth, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The officials said that it is indeed some kind of space vehicle, but they still haven’t been able to determine exactly what the satellite is supposed to do.

In a statement, the White House said the rocket launch was a highly provocative act that threatens regional security and violates U.N. resolutions.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned the launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. resolutions. A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "deplores" the launch.


Track North Korea's Mystery Satellite in real time!

Orbital elements have been published for North Korea's KWANGMYONGSONG 3 satellite that was launched today and condemned by the Obama administration as provocative.

If you’re so inclined, you can actually track that satellite’s precise location at the Web site The Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit 2 satellite (its name, which means “bright star,” comes from a Chinese-language poem by founding North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. 
The satellite has a reported orbital period of 96 minutes, meaning that it will circle the Earth in about the time it takes to watch “Team America: World Police.” 
Lets's all go out and blind it with a laser - shall we? 
Two Line Elements: 
1 39026U 12072A 12347.74205676 .00132649 00000-0 79618-2 0 63
2 39026 097.4079 036.6613 0060008 169.7339 190.5082 15.08803122 101

NORAD ID: 39026
Int'l Code: 2012-072A 
Perigee: 505.5 km 
Apogee: 588.5 km 
Inclination: 97.4 ° 
Period: 95.4 minutes 
Semi major axis: 6917 km 
Launch dateDecember 12, 2012 
Source: (NKOR) 
Comments: KWANGMYONGSONG 3 is a North Korean Earth "observation" satellite, which according to the DPRK is designed for weather forecast purposes, and whose launch is widely portrayed in the West to be a veiled ballistic missile test.

Here's a LINK to track it in real time.

Syria firing incendiary SCUDs on its own people

WASHINGTON — Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assadhave fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday.

The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict that has threatened to destabilize the Middle East, and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government. A fresh wave of mayhem struck the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday, reports from the region said, including a deadly triple bombing outside the Interior Ministry. One American official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing classified information, said that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.

“The total is number is probably north of six now,” said another American official, adding that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.

It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds — a class of Soviet-era missiles made famous by Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the first Persian Gulf war. But it appeared to be the first time that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.

American officials did not say how they had monitored the missile firings, but American intelligence has been closely following developments in Syria through aerial surveillance and other methods, partly out of concern that Mr. Assad may resort to the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

The Obama administration views the Assad government’s use of Scud missiles as a “significant escalation” of the conflict, said a senior official. It also shows, he said, the increasing pressure on Mr. Assad, since Scuds are primarily defensive weapons, being used by the government offensively against a counterinsurgency.

“Using Scuds to target tanks or military bases is one thing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Using them to target rebels hiding in playgrounds at schools is something else.”

Among other repercussions the Obama administration fears is the possibility that Mr. Assad’s military could fire Scuds near, or over, the border with Turkey, which has become one of the Syrian president’s most ardent foes. That could result in Turkey firing its Patriot antimissile batteries, the administration official said.

Military experts said the Assad government’s use of Scuds might reflect worries that its aircraft have been vulnerable to rebel air defenses. In recent weeks, rebel forces have captured Syrian military bases, seized air-defense weapons and used some of them to fire at Syria warplanes. But one expert said that the government may have decided to use large missiles in order to wipe out military bases — and the arsenals they hold — that had been taken over by the opposition.

The Obama administration has yet to comment publicly on the missile attacks, but a senior administration official alluded to the development in a briefing for reporters on Tuesday.

“The Syrian regime has used aircraft,” the administration official said. “It has used artillery, and it appears that it has even used missile to attack the Syrian population and to attack what was a peaceful protest movement.”

There have been other indications of Syrian government use of missiles. The Local Coordinating Committees, an antigovernment activist network in Syria, reported from its Damascus office in an e-mail late Tuesday that “Regime forces are firing land missiles that are capable of carrying chemical warheads.” The group did not elaborate on what the missiles were or where the information had originated.

The developments came as representatives of more than 100 countries and organizations that support the anti-Assad movement met in Morocco and endorsed a newly formed insurgent coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. President Obama formally acknowledged that coalition, known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, in an interview on Tuesday with ABC News.

But the leader of the coalition took issue with a decision by the Obama administration to classify Al Nusra Front — one of several armed groups fighting Mr. Assad — as a foreign terrorist organization and urged the United States to review that decision.

The coalition leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, said, “The logic under which we consider one of the parts that fights against the Assad regime is a terrorist organization is a logic one must reconsider.”

Real hero of bin Laden raid denied promotion - treated unfairly

By Greg Miller, Published: December 10

She was a real-life heroine of the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden, a headstrong young operative whose work tracking the al-Qaeda leader serves as the dramatic core of a Hollywood film set to premiere next week.

Her CIA career has followed a more problematic script, however, since bin Laden was killed.

The operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion that many in the CIA thought would be impossible to withhold from someone who played such a key role in one of the most successful operations in agency history.

She has sparred with CIA colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn’t deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said.

The woman has also come under scrutiny for her contacts with filmmakers and others about the bin Laden mission, part of a broader internal inquiry into the agency’s cooperation on the new movie and other projects, former officials said.

Her defenders say the operative has been treated unfairly, and even her critics acknowledge that her contributions to the bin Laden hunt were crucial. But the developments have cast a cloud over a career that is about to be bathed in the sort of cinematic glow ordinarily reserved for fictional Hollywood spies.

The female officer, who is in her 30s, is the model for the main character in “Zero Dark Thirty,”a film that chronicles the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda chief and that critics are describing as an Academy Award front-runner even before its Dec. 19 release.

The character Maya, which is not the CIA operative’s real name, is portrayed as a gifted operative who spent years pursuing her conviction that al-Qaeda’s courier network would lead to bin Laden, a conviction that proved correct.

At one point in the film, after a female colleague is killed in an attack on a CIA compound in Afghanistan, Maya describes her purpose in near-messianic terms: “I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.”

Colleagues said the on-screen depiction captures the woman’s dedication and combative temperament.

“She’s not Miss Congeniality, but that’s not going to find Osama bin Laden,” said a former CIA associate, who added that the attention from filmmakers sent waves of envy through the agency’s ranks.

“The agency is a funny place, very insular,” the former official said. “It’s like middle-schoolers with clearances.”

The woman is not allowed to talk to journalists, and the CIA declined to answer questions about her, except to stress that the bin Laden mission involved an extensive team. “Over the course of a decade, hundreds of analysts, operators and many others played key roles in the hunt,” said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood.

Friction over mission, movie

The internal frictions are an unseemly aspect of the ongoing fallout from a mission that is otherwise regarded as one of the signal successes in CIA history.

The movie has been a source of controversy since it was revealed that the filmmakers — including director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal — were given extensive access to officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA.

Members of Congress have called for investigations into whether classified information was shared. The movie’s release was delayed amid criticism that it amounted to a reelection ad for President Obama.

The film’s publicity materials say that Maya “is based on a real person,” but the filmmakers declined to elaborate. U.S. officials acknowledged that Boal met with Maya’s real-life counterpart and other CIA officers, typically in the presence of someone from the agency’s public affairs office. The character is played by Jessica Chastain.

Her real-life counterpart joined the agency before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, officials said, and served as a targeter — a position that involves finding targets to recruit as spies or for lethal drone strikes — in the CIA’s station in Islamabad, Pakistan.

She was in that country when the search for bin Laden, after years of being moribund, suddenly heated up. After Obama took office, CIA operatives reexamined several potential trails, including al-Qaeda’s use of couriers to hand-deliver messages to and from bin Laden.

“After this went right, there were a lot of people trying to take credit,” the former intelligence official said. But the female targeter “was one of the people from very early on pushing this” courier approach.

Lashing out in an e-mail

This spring, she was among a handful of employees given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, its highest honor except for those recognizing people who have come under direct fire. But when dozens of others were given lesser awards, the female officer lashed out.

“She hit ‘reply all’ ” to an e-mail announcement of the awards, a second former CIA official said. The thrust of her message, the former official said, was: “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”

Over the past year, she was denied a promotion that would have raised her civil service rank from GS-13 to GS-14, bringing an additional $16,000 in annual pay.

Officials said the woman was given a cash bonus for her work on the bin Laden mission and has since moved on to a new counterterrorism assignment. They declined to say why the promotion was blocked.

The move stunned the woman’s former associates, despite her reputation for clashing with colleagues.

“Do you know how many CIA officers are jerks?” the former official said. “If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone.”

The targeter’s contacts with the “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers have also been examined as part of an inquiry, apparently by the CIA inspector general, into the information that agency officials shared with outsiders about the bin Laden raid.

Internal e-mails released this year under Freedom of Information Act requests showed how the agency set up repeated visits for Boal, allowing him to tour the “vault” where the raid was planned and even see a mock-up of the Abbottabad compound.

Former CIA officials said agency enthusiasm for the film has been tempered as details about it have surfaced, including the fact that the movie opens with a harrowing waterboarding scene in a secret CIA prison.

Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

Karzai says he has evidence Pakistan was behind bombing

ANKARA: Afghan President Hamid Karzai will submit evidence to Pakistan during a meeting in Turkey on Tuesday suggesting that the attack on Afghanistan’s spy chief was hatched in Pakistan, said Karzai’s spokesperson.
“President Karzai will submit all the documents and evidence in hand to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, which suggest the attack was hatched in Quetta in Pakistan, and follow this up seriously,” said Siamak Herawi, a spokesperson for Karzai.
Karzai was to hold talks with Zardari at a trilateral summit hosted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on Tuesday and Wednesday. Foreign ministers and senior officials from both countries will also meet at the summit, the seventh of its kind in Turkey.
The bomber, who hid explosives inside his underwear and posed as a peace messenger, wounded spy chief Asadullah Khalid last Thursday in a brazen attack that set back a nascent, already fragile reconciliation process.
Speaking after the attack, Karzai stopped short of directly blaming his neighbour but said he knew “for a fact” the bomber came from Pakistan and that Kabul would seek clarification from Islamabad during meetings in Turkey.
While the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the bombing, Karzai has said the raid was too sophisticated to have been carried out by the militant group.
“Bigger hands are involved,” said Herawi, repeating a phrase often used by the Afghan leader after high-profile attacks.
Pakistan has said it would assist in any investigation into the bombing, but also urged Karzai to provide evidence before “levelling charges”, and suggested Kabul look into any lapses in its own security arrangements that may have led to the raid.
Strained ties
While the latest spat is unlikely to cause any lasting damage – Karzai has issued more direct charges at Pakistan in the past and has said contacts between both countries would continue – ties between Kabul and Islamabad remain strained.
Afghanistan has been angered by cross-border raids by militant groups from Pakistan, and has repeatedly accused its neighbour’s intelligence agency of backing Afghan insurgent groups to advance its own interests in the country.
Pakistan denies the accusations and says it is committed to helping bring peace to Afghanistan.
The attack on Afghanistan’s top spy was almost a carbon copy of last year’s assassination of the country’s chief peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a killing in which Afghanistan said Pakistan was involved.
Pakistan has, however, sent recent strong signals it would support the Afghan government’s efforts to draw the Taliban into negotiations after more than a decade of war.
The United States and Western nations with troops in Afghanistan have long abandoned the notion of defeating the Taliban militarily and have reluctantly thrown their weight behind negotiating with the militants to end the fighting.
That the insurgents are capable of striking in the heart of the Kabul after more than 10 years of fighting highlights Afghanistan’s ongoing instability as US-led Nato troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.


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