According to the editor of a North Korea tech blog, the rogue nation launched its Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite on Sunday, which flew a path over Levi’s Stadium roughly an hour after Super Bowl 50 ended.
Martyn Williams, a former Stanford University John S. Knight Journalism Fellow, used data gleaned from the U.S. Strategic Command to track the satellite as it flew 500 kilometers above the crowd at 8:26 p.m. PST.
As reported by the Contra Costa Times, Williams, who lives in Palo Alto, said, “If you were standing at Levi’s Stadium and the horizon is 0 degrees and directly overhead is 90 degrees, it was about 87 degrees overhead.” He added, “We don’t know very much about it. They’ve called it an ‘earth observation satellite,’ which is a catchall term that it will likely take pictures of the Earth.”
Williams said he could not ascertain why the path of the satellite was chosen or if it was operational: “We don’t even know if it is dead or alive at the moment.” He also pointed out that the satellite’s speed left it ten minutes from the time it could see the stadium ahead on the horizon until the point at which it disappeared behind it.
North Korea has intimated that the satellite would be used to monitor agricultural output. The United Nations Security Council condemned the launch and stated there would be repercussions. The U.S. Strategic Command announced it was following two “objects” in space, probably the satellite and its final boost stage.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge John Lightfoot, part of a team supervising Super Bowl 50 security, said he knew about the satellite but would leave any possible issues for the military.
Williams said he believed nothing sinister was at play, asserting, “Its path and its trajectory all came down to the exact moment it takes off. It all ended up a happy coincidence that it came over the Super Bowl.” He joked about North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un: “At first I thought, ‘Maybe he’s an NFL fan and wants to watch the game.’ But with the level of technology they have, I doubt they could even make out the stadium in any photos.”
Yet there is concern about the launch; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified that North Korea has resumed production of plutonium, and that fact, combined with North Korea’s test of a “boosted” nuclear warhead, has given pause to security analysts. The satellite cannot launch on alert because it is liquid-fueled, but its engines resemble North Korea’s “Scud” liquid-fueled ballistic missile. According to CNN, the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS has stated, “By 2020, the North could have anywhere from 20 to 100 nuclear weapons” capable of hitting Japan, South Korea, and possibly the United States.
A senior U.S. defense official told CNN that the satellite was “tumbling in orbit” and could not function.