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North Korea to launch satellites to monitor U.S. and its allies

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(Last Updated On: March 10, 2022)

North Korea will launch a number of reconnaissance satellites in coming years to provide real-time information on military actions by the United States and its allies, state media on Thursday reported leader Kim Jong Un as saying.

While inspecting North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, Kim said “a lot” of military reconnaissance satellites would be put into sun-synchronous polar orbit in the period of a five-year plan announced last year, state news agency KCNA reported.

“He noted that the purpose of developing and operating the military reconnaissance satellite is to provide the armed forces of the DPRK with real-time information on military actions against it by the aggression troops of the U.S. imperialism and its vassal forces in south Korea, Japan and the Pacific,” the news agency said.

North Korea appears to be preparing to launch a reconnaissance satellite, which could prove as controversial as the nuclear-armed country’s weapons tests because they use the same banned ballistic missile technology, experts say.

North Korea says it conducted two tests of satellite systems on Feb. 27 and March 5. Authorities in South Korea, Japan, and the United States says the tests involved launches of ballistic missiles.

The launches drew international condemnation and the U.S. military said on Thursday it had increased surveillance and reconnaissance collection in the Yellow Sea.

The United States also said it had heightened its ballistic missile defence readiness after a “significant increase” in North Korean missile tests.

Kim defended the satellite work as not only about gathering information but protecting North Korea’s sovereignty and national interests, exercising its legitimate rights to self-defence, and elevating national prestige, KCNA reported.

“He stressed that this urgent project for perfecting the country’s war preparedness capacity by improving our state’s war deterrent is the supreme revolutionary task, a political and military priority task to which our Party and government attach the most importance,” KCNA said.

The United States and its allies have condemned previous North Korean space launches as violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions that have imposed sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.

North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) since 2017, but has suggested in could resume such tests because talks with the United States are stalled.

Its latest flurry of missile launches could be groundwork for a return to ICBM and nuclear bomb tests this year, the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) said in its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment released this week.

A satellite launched into orbit would be the first since 2016.

Recent sub-orbital launches, which likely used road-mobile medium-range ballistic missiles, appeared designed to “pop the key components of an imagery reconnaissance satellite up to operational altitudes for a few minutes of testing”, 38 North, a U.S.-based monitoring group, said in a report.

Such components, including satellite stabilisation, the imaging payload, and data transmission may have failed in previous tests and therefore required additional testing, the group said.

“It remains to be seen how capable any North Korean imagery satellite would be, the frequency of launches, or how many such satellites might be maintained in orbit at any one time—all key indicators of the actual military significance of such satellites,” 38 North said.

Regardless, North Korea clearly sees this capability as having propaganda value and showcasing its technological prowess and effective leadership, it added.

A launch could make technical contributions to North Korea’s ICBM capability, depending on what type of rocket booster is used, 38 North said.

“It may also be the precursor to other more provocative developments mentioned by Kim, such as the testing of multiple-warhead missiles, solid-propellant ICBMs, and ICBM-range solid-propellant submarine-launched ballistic missiles,” it said.

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Burmese python weighing almost 100kg caught in Florida

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

The largest Burmese python ever seen in Florida was caught by researchers who used another python to lure it out of its hiding place in the Everglades, National Geographic reported this week.

The gargantuan snake was a female, measuring nearly 5.4 meters long and weighing 97 kilograms, 13.6 kg more than the next-largest python ever found in the state.

Most Burmese pythons that are found in Florida range between 1.8 and 3 m long, although in their native habitats in Southeast Asia, the snakes commonly reach 5.4 m. The largest can reach lengths of 6 m or more, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Since being introduced in Florida in the 1970s, the invasive pythons have bred successfully in the southern regions of the state, where they prey on many native birds and mammals, as well as the occasional alligator or pet dog, Live Science reported.

A 3.7 m snake nicknamed Dion served as bait for the record-setting female that the team captured in December.

At that time, the team of researchers noticed Dion had stationed himself in one particular location near Naples, within the western Everglades’ ecosystem. When they went to check on him, they found him coiled near a monstrous female.

After an intense wrestling match, the researchers managed to wrangle the huge female into a bag, which they then secured and transported to their research facility.

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Giant stingray caught in Cambodia is world’s largest freshwater fish

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(Last Updated On: June 22, 2022)

The largest freshwater fish ever recorded was captured in the Mekong River in Cambodia last week by a fisherman collaborating with researchers to document the river’s biodiversity.

The four-meter endangered giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) was hauled from the river on June 13 before being measured and released back into the wild, the non-profit conservation news service Mongabay reported.

Weighing in at nearly 300 kilograms, the stingray surpasses the previous record holder, a 293-kg Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) caught in Thailand in 2005.

Experts say the find emphasizes what’s at stake in the Mekong, a river that’s facing a slew of development threats, including major hydropower dams that have altered the river’s natural flow and exacerbated low river levels due to dry-season droughts in recent years, Mongabay reported.

“This is an absolutely astonishing discovery, and justifies efforts to better understand the mysteries surrounding this species and the incredible stretch of river where it lives,” Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist and leader of the USAID-funded Wonders of the Mekong project, said in a statement.

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South Korea prepares for second space rocket attempt

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(Last Updated On: June 21, 2022)

South Korea is set for a second test launch of its domestically produced Nuri space rocket on Tuesday, eight months after the first test successfully blasted off but failed to place a dummy satellite in orbit.

On Monday, the rocket was erected on its launch pad at the Naro Space Center on the southern coast of South Korea. The test had been scheduled for last week, but was scrubbed in the hours before launch because of a problem with an oxidizer tank sensor.

Officials will decide Tuesday afternoon whether to proceed.

The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri rocket, designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to eventually put 1.5-ton payloads into orbit 600 to 800 km above the Earth, is a cornerstone of the country’s plans to jumpstart its space programme and achieve ambitious goals in 6G networks, spy satellites, and even lunar probes.

It uses only Korean rocket technologies, and is the country’s first domestically built space launch vehicle. South Korea’s last booster, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.

Nuri is key to South Korean plans to eventually build a Korean satellite-based navigation system and a 6G communications network. The country also plans to launch a range of military satellites, but officials deny that the Nuri has any use as a weapon.

South Korea is also working with the United States on a lunar orbiter, and hopes to land a probe on the moon by 2030.

Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programme.

In March, South Korea’s military separately oversaw what it said was its first successful launch of a solid-fuel space-launch rocket, another part of its plans to launch spy satellites.

In Nuri’s first test in October, the rocket completed its flight sequences but failed to place the test payload into orbit after its third-stage engine burned out earlier than planned.

Engineers adjusted the helium tank inside Nuri’s third-stage oxidizer tank to address that problem, Yonhap news agency reported.

The stakes will be higher in Tuesday’s test, as in addition to a dummy satellite, Nuri will carry a rocket performance verification satellite and four cube satellites developed by universities for research.

KARI has said it plans to conduct at least four more test launches by 2027.

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