SUCH GREAT HEIGHTS

North Korea’s latest missile test traveled 10 times higher than the ISS

After a two-month break in missile tests, North Korea was back at it today (Nov. 29).

The 20th missile test of the year, today’s was especially noteworthy because it (literally) reached new heights. The latest missile—which North Korea announced was a new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile—flew to an altitude of up to 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and traveled 960 km, spending nearly an hour in the air.

At that height, the missile traveled more than 10 times above the International Space Station, which orbits 408 km above Earth.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said that if the missile were flown on a standard trajectory rather than a lofted trajectory, it would’ve been able to travel more than 13,000 km. “Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States,” wrote David Wright, co-director of the advocacy group, in a blog post.

In comparison, North Korea’s first ICBM test in July flew to a maximum altitude of 2,802 km, and was estimated to be able to travel 6,700 km, putting Alaska within its reach.

Wright does note that it’s unclear how heavy a payload the latest missile was carrying, and the trajectory suggests it was a “very light mock warhead.” If that is the case, it’s unlikely the missile could travel such a long distance with a heavier nuclear warhead, he added.

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