Kwangmyongsong 3-2 and STSAT-2C: Revolutionary Speed and Capitalism, Reversed
by Robert Winstanley-Chesters
Back in the last gasp of 2012, perhaps just hours after the DPRK successfully launched Kwangmyongsong 3-2 into space, this author weighed in with “Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 and Beyond – Narrative and Legitimative Power of the DPRK in the Space Race,” a post which considered the potential value of the field of space exploration within the DPRK’s legitimative and presentational narratives.
Now, with the dust well settled, this second post considers further the connective possibilities between this strategic approach and the realm of environmental and technical development, as well as the impact of another space related event, this time south of the DMZ.
Remembering Kwangmyongsong 3-2: North Korea Starts Things Off | Following the launch of Kwangmyongsong 3-2, all manner of reportage and review surrounded the DPRK’s first baby steps into space, from its geo-political impact and accompanying UNSC sanctioning to whether it could be seen from the ground, and the frequency/speed of sunlight flashing off it. It was, and is, even possible to track the current position of Kwangmyongsong 3-2 on your own computer: as I finish this piece it is above Santiago on the Chilean coast.
What is apparent from all of this material is that the presentation of the satellite itself as an ‘earth observation’ satellite designed to better develop meterological forecasting and assessment on the part of the North’s meterological agency, and further to contribute to the development of agricultural practices and yields, has not had much of an outing in the international media. The DPRK’s assertion that its scientific endeavours beyond the atmosphere are for peaceful, benign reasons has not gained much narrative traction, let alone the environmental impetus behind this apparent science.
Remembering TSAT-2C: South Korea Joins the Space Race | None of this was surprising in the slightest. What was surprising was the joining of the DPRK in an apparent trans-peninsular space race by its estranged southern sibling in January. The launch by the ROK of the unimaginatively named STSAT-2C (surely ‘Cosmos Wave’ wasn’t taken?) on the 30th of January 2013 from the Naro Space Centre in South Jeolla Province must surely be taken as a belated riposte to the North’s extra terrestrial escapades, given that the Lee Myung-bak government cannot have felt narratologically secure in light of an obviously overjoyed, if corpulent, and now stratospherically empowered, Kim Jong-un.
However, again, what has not been extensively referred to by commentators has been the fact that STSAT-2C , although primarily a test bed for instrumentation and equipment to be used in future ROK space exploration, does contain as part of its instrumentation and mission devices a “Dual Channel Radiometer” to enable it monitor and assess atmospheric conditions, and thus, just like Kwangmyongsong, is in some senses focused squarely upon matters environmental.
Thus, could it be that instead of an interstellar rivalry with a tendency towards potential conflagration and anxiety, these two first forays into space serve to demonstrate a similarity in environmental approach in the sovereign polities either side of the DMZ?
Conclusion | This commentator has always seen a hint of revolutionary speed in the ROK’s projection of “revolutionary speed”, and just the merest inference of the capitalistic developmental mode in the DPRK’s apparent obsession with SEZ’s and its willingness to extract surplus value from labour within the environmental sector. However, the coincidence of both Koreas identifying a requirement to support their own presentational narrative with space missions designed to better understand or support their environmental or meterological sectors is simply too much. Lee Sang-ryul of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute was even quoted by the Los Angeles Times (as potentially off message as it is possible to go), recounting that “The exterior of Unha-3 and Naro seems to be very much alike. It is about the same weight, the shapes are similar, and the fact that it puts a satellite in the orbit is the same…”
In environmental and developmental terms, it could be that what both the launches of both Kwangmyongsyong and STSAT represent is a moment of combination and unification in terms of developmental and environmental paradigmatic approach between the two Koreas, a trans-peninsular embrace of the unexpected kind…