Noah Shachtman has a sweet new blog over at Wired called, Danger Room.
Haninah Levine, science fellow at the Center for Defense Information, weighs in on Iran’s so-called “space launch.” With a little help from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Wright, Haninah concludes Yawn, It’s a SCUD:
Roughly speaking, if you’re launching something straight up into space, the kinetic energy at the moment of maximum speed (known as burnout speed), just as the engines cut out, is equal to the potential energy at the maximum height of the rocket’s flight. In other words, KEburnout=PEmaximum height.
… if we know the maximum height attained, we can calculate easily the burnout speed. And that’s important, because if we know the burnout speed of the missile used in the test, we can also figure out how far it would have gone if we’d fired it along a trajectory optimized for range, instead of height.
So, what do we get? For a maximum altitude of 150 kilometers, we get a burnout speed of 1.7 km/s – about 3,800 miles per hour. And what do you know – the burnout speed of a SCUD-B, with a 300 kilometer range, just happens to be about 1.4 km/s. Of course, if we wanted to be lazy, we could have followed the “1/2 Rule” – the maximum height a rocket can achieve, fired straight up, is about equal to half its maximum range, fired for distance. Or, we could be even lazier, and note that the good old SCUD-B, with range of 300 kilometers and potential vertical launch height of 150 kilometers, is the favorite example of basic texts on ballistic missiles.
Now, the physics we went through here was a bit slapdash – but if the rocket that was used for this test doesn’t have an exact range of 300 kilometers, it definitely doesn’t have a range of 10,000 kilometers – or even 1,000 kilometers. Simply put, this missile doesn’t go very far. It can’t even reach low-earth orbit, which begins around 200 km. So it’s not even useful for putting satellites into space.
[Also, New Scientist has a helpful story.]
This is a little different, say, than pre-launch speculation by Craig Covault in AvWeek that the missile was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing for testing longer-range missile strike technologies” derived from either the Shahab or the alleged Ghadar-110.
Covault references the “Ghadar 110” as though the existence of the missile were an established fact. In fact, Covault is the first reporter with a respectable publication to imply that “U.S. agencies” (oddly, without the usual adjective “intelligence”) have confirmed it’s existence.
The name “Ghadar” missile—for those of you wondering like I was—entered the public discourse in November 2005 as an accusation by John Bolton’s favorite terrorists, the MEK.
Ghadar—which Covault describes as a solid propellant missile with a 1,800 mile range—sounds suspiciously like the so-called BM-25.
German magazine Bild reported in December 2005 that North Korea sold Iran 18 BM-25 intermediate range ballistic missiles, a story that got more press when Amos Yadlin, head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch, repeated it.
I am not ready to start calling the missile the BS-25 as some do … yet … but I still have big questions about what North Korea did (or did not) sell to Iran. Robert Schmucker, for what its worth, seems to give the story some credence.
I also have some questions about the nature of Russian assistance to North Korea. Paul Kerr and Sonni Efron seem to suggest the former transfered some technology, although how the NORKS used any Russian technology remains a very interesting question. Allen Thomson, Paul Kerr and I have speculated a couple of times (1, 2) in the comments about the North Korea’s missile and the SS-N-6.
No definitive answers, but if Covault really got the IC to confirm the BS … er … BM-25 story … well, that would be news.
Late Update: “A knowledgeable former Department of State official told” Paul Kerr in December “that the reports [of a North Korean IRBM sale to Iran] are ‘certainly credible.’”