North Korea’s “successful” satellite in orbit, but tumbling and useless

North Korean image purported to be of the launch of the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 satellite (though it may actually be of an earlier launch).

On Sunday, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) launched a rocket carrying a satellite into orbit despite protests from neighboring countries and the US that it is a violation of previous agreements on missile testing. The Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 satellite, an "earth observation satellite" ostensibly for monitoring agricultural output, apparently reached orbit. But the satellite is apparently tumbling out of control, according to a US Department of Defense official.

Meanwhile, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that intelligence has confirmed that North Korea has resumed production of plutonium at a reactor in Yongbyon. The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had announced the return to production operations in September of 2015. Clapper said that "North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel in a matter of weeks to months."

The launch, the renewed plutonium production, and the test last month of a "boosted" nuclear warhead (which North Korea claimed was a hydrogen bomb) have all been seen as evidence that North Korea is moving forward with development of nuclear ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the west coast of the United States. Timed both to coincide with lunar new year celebrations and the Super Bowl in the US, the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-4 satellite flew over the San Francisco Bay area just an hour after the end of Super Bowl 50.

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