A North Korean satellite orbited in February may no longer be a tumbling piece of space junk — although it seems unable to send signals.

North Korea launching the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 in early February. Photo by KCNA

South Korean and US defense officials have said that a long-range rocket carrying the satellite failed to reach the proper trajectory on Feb. 7 causing the satellite to tumble in orbit.

However,  Voice of America quotes a US astrophysicist as saying the North’s Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite is no longer moving erratically and appears to be in “stable” position. The lower part of the spacecraft is also said to be facing the earth.

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told VOA he used radar data from Marco Langbroek, a Netherlands-based archaeologist and amateur astronomer, to make the analysis.

The astrophysicist says the satellite seems to be partly functional, though radio signals are yet to be detected by ground stations. McDowell isn’t sure if the device only communicates with earth when it passes over North Korea, or if it’s transmitting capability has been compromised.

The latest North Korean satellite attempt differs from Pyongyang’s past orbital missions. During a 2012 launch, McDowell said an upper-stage rocket and two other objects accompanied the Kwangmyongsong-3 in orbit. This time, the Kwangmyongsong-4 is orbiting earth with only its upper-stage rocket.

In any event, the analyst notes the North’s current satellite is “not simply a mass of scrap metal.”

The US and its allies charge that the satellite launch is being used as a cover to test nuclear-capable missiles that can hit the US mainland. The North denies the claims.

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