By Michael Elleman, Senior Fellow for Missile Defence
At roughly 2:47 AM Pyongyang Time (6:17 PM GMT) on November 29, North Korea test fired a ballistic missile from the Sain-ni area. North Korea has since claimed that this launch was a new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Initial reports from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff indicated that the missile reached an apogee of about 4,500 km, and traveled 960 km downrange before impacting in the East Sea, within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The total flight time was reportedly 53 minutes. Without additional flight data, photographs, or video of the launch, it is difficult to estimate the exact range of this new missile with complete certainty; however, preliminary calculations place the range from 13,000 km on the high-end with light to no payloads to 8,500 km with more standard 500 kg payloads.
The previous ICBM model, the Hwasong-14, was tested twice in July. On July 28, it reached an altitude of approximately 3,725 km, landed 998 km from the launch site, and was aloft for 47 minutes, 12 seconds. The higher apogee and longer flight time suggest that the Hwasong-15 is similar to the one fired on July 28, but with a second stage powered by four small engines derived from the Soviet R-27 missile instead of just two. The payload mass for both tests is assumed to be the same, about 150 kg. However, the addition of two more small engines adds roughly 50 kg to the second stage mass.
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