Jeffrey LewisUnha/Taepodong Test Imminent

Pollack the Wit — no relation to Joe — links to KCNA’s announcement that “preparations for launching experimental communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 by means of delivery rocket Unha-2 are now making brisk headway …”

I observe no references, prior to February 24, 2009, describing North Korea’s rocket as “Unha” and I certainly don’t see any references to the Unha-1. I presume they’ve just renamed the Taapodong, but who knows?


  1. Andreas Persbo

    From Stratfor: “The Space Committee statement named the satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 (the first Kwangmyongsong was the failed attempt in 1998), the missile Unha-2 (translated as Galaxy-2, known internationally as the Taepodong-2) …”

    Then again, who knows?

  2. FSB

    maybe it will collide with the Iranian satellite! 😉

    Is that still up there?

  3. Tal Inbar

    Interesting news from The Korea Times:

    “US Ready to Intercept NK Missile”


  4. Azr@el (History)

    I don’t recall Pyongyang naming it “Taepodong 2” in the first place. Last check this is a U.S. designation for the rocket. Can you imagine the gall, Bloody North Koreans trying to name their own rockets…as opposed to calling them by the cute little names we came up with; that just steams my KimChi.

  5. BJR
  6. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    Yes, you are correct that Taepodong is a US designation of the rocket — based on the place it was initially spotted.

    But the North Koreans launched the Kwangmyŏngsŏng=1 on what they called the Baekdusan-1. I missed the nomenclature change to Unha. I wonder if it signals a design change from the TD-2? Or just a rebranding after two flight tests (sort of like when ValuJet became AirTran).

    By the way, the wikipedia page
    for Kwangmyŏngsŏng, as of today, is outstanding.

    And, Azr@el, much as I appreciate biting sarcasm, the real reason for Western designations is the gall that the North Koreans and others have of not releasing the names of their missiles and failing to provide detailed design information that makes clear the family history of each design.

    If the North Koreans did that, I’d call the missile any damn thing they wanted.

  7. Josh

    Jeff, not only is “Unha” a first sighting, so is “Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground.”

    A side note: the U.S. has named three NK missiles or series of missiles — the Nodong, the Taepodong, and the Musudan — all based on an initial sighting at the same place: the Musudan-ri launch facility, AKA Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground.

    These are the names of nearby villages.

  8. Allen Thomson (History)

    > A side note: the U.S. has named three NK missiles or series of missiles — the Nodong, the Taepodong, and the Musudan — all based on an initial sighting at the same place: the Musudan-ri launch facility, AKA Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground.

    I agree about the Nodong and Taepodong, but it’s not clear to me that the “Musudan” missile designation came out of the usual USIC naming process. Mostly because I’m still not convinced that the Musudan/BM-25/SS-N-6/R27 story isn’t a fable. Maybe the thing is real and maybe it, or its engine, were tested at Musudan-ri. But I’m not betting money on it.

  9. Josh


    I have some further thoughts in response to your comment here:

  10. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Again, this fits well into how i understand the north korean missile program:

    Taep’oDong-1 (1998) was the first test of a multistage-missile first sighted at or around the Musudan-Ri-launch-facility (which the “Taep’oDong”-designator obviously indicates) of a type i’d call “Taep’oDong-A” (since it’s also “Scud-A”, “Scud-B”, “Scud-C”, not “Scud-1”, “Scud-2”, “Scud-3” etc.), which the North Koreans names “Paektusan-1”. That one was obviously a (failed) launch attempt of the “Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1”-Satellite on a two-staged ballistic missile (NoDong-A + modified Scud?) by means of addition of a third kick-stage.

    Taep’oDong-2 (2006) was the second test of a multistage-missile, but this time it was presumably a missile of a type i’d call “Taep’oDong-B”; Perhaps the North Koreans called this device “Unha-1” (would fill the gap quite nice in my mind). This launch-attempt obviously ended in failure due to the break-up of the missile after about 40 seconds (around q-max).

    Now the North Koreans plan to launch an “Unha-2”-missile with a “Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2”-satellite; I wouldn’t be too surprised neither if this missile (Taep’oDong-B?) would turn out to be more or less identical to the iranian Safir IRILV (in this case i would expect an orbital inclination for “Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2” of about 39.5° to 52.4°, a generally similar orbital geometry to the iranian “Omid”-satellite and a second big object in a slightly lower orbit – the burnt-out second stage) nor if this next test would be announced by U.S.-officials as “Taep’oDong-3”…

    Considering the “Musudan/BM-25/SS-N-6/R27 story”:

    According to my interpretation, “SS-N-6/R-27” refers to the upper stage engine of the “Taep’oDong-B”: the two-chambered vernier engine of the R-27/Zyb/RSM-25/SS-N-6/Serb-SLBM (see the iranian Safir IRILV).

    An interesting possibility for the origin of the “BM-25”-reference could be the UNSCOM-inspection-mission “BM25/UNSCOM81” (25. inspection mission on ballistic missiles, 81. UNSCOM-inspection in iraq) between 14. and 22. june 1994 (since i see several similarities between the iraqi “Al-Tamuz”-project and Paektusan/Taep’oDong-A and the iraqi “Al-Kharief”-project and Unha/Taep’oDong-B as i understand it). BTW, i can’t help but wonder if it was NO coincidence that Saddam kicked the UNSCOM out of Iraq and the North Koreans tested their “Paektusan”-missile in the same year (and there was also the Ghauri/NoDong-A first-flight and the first nuclear test in Pakistan – where did these guys get all the money for this?)…

  11. Jonathan McDowell (History)

    Does anyone have a proper reference for the Paektusan/Baekdusan-1 name? I’ve seen it in a few Western sources but they never say where they got it from. Makes me nervous because of all the US-invented names like TaepoDong rolling around.

  12. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    Your skepticism is warranted, but in this case Dan Pinkston ran the name to the ground for his monograph, The North Korean Ballistic Missile Program:

    In September 2001, a North Korean encyclopedia noted the Paektusan-1 as the name of the space launch vehicle that was launched on August 31, 1998. In June 2006, a reporter for the pro-North Korean newspaper Chosun Sinbo cited North Korean officials and filed a report from Pyongyang calling the system being prepared for launch the “Paektusan-2.”

    See 조선대백과사전 [Korea Encyclopedia], Vol. 28, Pyongyang: Paekkwasajŏnch’ulp’amsa, 2001, p. 165; Shim Kyu-sŏn, Donga Ilbo, September 7, 2001, in “DPRK’s Taepo Dong Missile Named Paektusan No. 1,” Open Source Center Document ID: KPP20010910000089; 심규선 [Sim Kyu-sŏn], “북한 대포동미사일 ‘백두산 1호’ 공식 명명” [Official name of North Korea’s Taepodong missile is ‘Paektusan-1’],” 동아일보 [Donga Ilbo], September 8, 2001, in KINDS,; 문일 [Mun Il], “대포동미사일 정식명칭 ‘백두산1호로켓’” [“The Formal Name of the Taepodong Missile is the ‘Paektusan-1 Rocket’],” 국민일보, 2001.09.07, in KINDS,; 김지영 [Kim Ji-yŏng], “[대포동]소동은 미국의 자작자연극” [Uproar Over (Taepodong) Is a Self-Made Drama by the U.S.”], 조선신보 [Chosŏn Sinbo], June 21, 2006,

    pp72-73, n.84

    Nodong/Taepodong/Musudan are US-given names after North Korean places where the US spotted the missiles.

  13. Jonathan McDowell (History)

    OK, so Paektusan is the McCune-Reischauer transliteration and Baekdusan is the Revised Romanization version. Since North Korea uses the M-R system I’ll adopt Paektusan-1 as the most correct name of the rocket. Thanks Jeffrey!

    I think the text has
    ‘Paektusan-1 ho’ and
    ‘Paektusan-1 ho rokes’ – the Paektusan-1 bit is 백두산 1