Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst.
The announcement of an impending North Korean satellite launch attempt will provoke a media blitz throughout December. While much of the discussion will be on subjective issues, we should hope that one clear point is not misrepresented: this launch does not pose any immediate risk to Australia.
The Australian media went into sensationalist mode for the last attempt, which occurred in April this year. Claims were made that the rocket could have hit us. The next launch is likely to follow a similar trajectory, although the April attempt failed very soon after launch, and it's difficult to place odds on a successful launch this time.
Flat drawings of the rocket's trajectory show it passes over Australia soon after launch. This is true, but it does not mean that parts of the rocket will fall on our soil. If the launch is successful, the rocket's final stage and its satellite will be in space, and in orbit, as they pass over Australia. If the launch does not succeed, it is unlikely that any part of the rocket will come close to us. Even in the worst-case scenario, debris from the rocket is likely to be destroyed on re-entry if it marginally falls short of its planned trajectory.
This blog reported on these issues for the last launch in April. It's important to remind the media and the public of these points again. Otherwise the media is likely to pose a greater risk to us than the rocket itself!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.