The North American Aerospace Defense Command acknowledged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) successfully launched a three stage rocket (or missile, depending on who you listen to, as they really are the same thing) and placed an object in orbit. Or a weather satellite if you read KCNA (the DPRK’s official news organ.) http://www.norad.mil/News/2012/121112b.html
Problem? It is in a circumpolar orbit and out of control. The circumpolar orbit was intended, but the out-of-control path means potentially any satellite in equatorial orbit and that height is in its path. NASA still can’t figure out what it really is, but it is not in control. That means that all objects in its path are subject to striking by the North Korean satellite.
Smithsonian Magazine details why this is a problem with the DPRK satellite (with a link to a Gizmondo article with further details), and why it could effectively shut out access to orbit for all nations. The short story: if it hits anything (which it is statistically certain to in its orbit and uncontrolled path), thousands of parts will fly in every direction, to hit more. Essentially it will become a runaway, filling all of orbital space with debris that cannot be penetrated safely with current technology.
I am watching debris fall from the Geminids. No satellites, though. One wonders if the DPRK actually intended this, as an anti-satellite weapon, since NASA cannot figure out what it is supposed to do. If so, it will be very successful.
Most Western nations, and the United Nations feel that the DPRK’s putative satellite launches are actually cover for developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the US West Coast. The United Nations has roundly condemned the launch. The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned the DPRK launch. https://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8778.doc.htm - James, in Wyobraska.
Please consider reading and signing my atheists, agnostics, and nones acknowledgement petition on the White House petition Website. Even if you choose not to sign, please consider what it means when a sitting president's campaign adviser can blithely state that he does not view 1/5 of the American public as a constituency, what it means for our civil rights, and what it means to others who are religious that hear that. It is as egregious as Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% remark.
Put simply, the North Koreans don't know what they're doing. They're roughly where the US and Russia were 50 years ago (or worse) and they want to pretend like they can play with the big boys when they simply don't have the expertise or the experience.
As important as space is for everyday life in the first world - everything from weather satellites to GPS, communications, etc. - having some idiot come in and disrupt things for everyone else is both dangerous and intolerable. If the NK satellite is indeed a serious threat, my sense is that a mission may have to be sent to capture it, perhaps with the X37B, if it is capable of such a mission. If the North Koreans want to persist with their misguided playing, their launch vehicles may have to be shot down before they can put more errant junk into orbit. Yes, this is playing hardball and yes, I fully expect Kim Jong Un to have a shit-fit about it. Fact is, if they can't be responsible about their supposed exploration of space, they have to be STOPPED.
Even when the Soviets and the USA first started space programmes, we knew what we were doing. North Korea (if security and military analysis sites are believable, and I do in this case) seems to be bent on devising an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the West Coast of the USA.
Thus, debris in orbit is only a secondary concern to accuracy in delivery.
Had the ballistic path of this rocket been different, California would have been the target.
The only good thing right now about all this (unless wiping out all the satellites is a good thing) is that no control over their payload (the putative weather satellite) means they still can't hit the broadside of a continent with a ballistic missile.
But practice makes perfect.
Japan threatened to shoot it down if it overflew Japanese territory. It was expected to overfly Okinawa, and they were prepared in that prefecture to bring it down. Instead the DPRK chose a different path, which overflew a different Japanese island.