North Korea Likely Preparing For New Rocket Engine Test at Sohae

North Korea Likely Preparing for New Rocket Engine Test at Sohae | 38 North: Informed Analysis of North Korea

38north.org · by 38 North · January 4, 2018

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Frank Pabian and Jack Liu.

A Rocket Engine Test Soon

Between November 23 and December 25, the rail-mounted environment shelter was moved from its position flush against the vertical engine test stand to the center of the concrete apron. Tire tracks are visible on the concrete apron and in front of the vehicle garage on both dates. While there appears to be no activity at the stand’s fuel/oxidizer bunkers, this absence of activity has not been a reliable indicator for rocket engine test preparations in the past. The exact reason for the recent movement of the environment shelter and the presence of tire tracks is unclear. As noted in previous reports, the shelter has been moved to its current position on the concrete apron either to permit the receipt and preparation of rocket engines prior to testing or to unload them after a test. Both color and near-infrared imagery, however, show no indications that an engine test has taken place since November 23, suggesting that if the current activity is test related, it is likely preparations for a future test. Alternative explanations for these activities include normal maintenance and repair or propaganda activity to reinforce recent official North Korean statements concerning space exploration and Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s address.

Figure 1. Vehicle tracks at the vertical engine test stand, but no recent tests conducted.

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Low-level Launch Support Activities at Facility

No activity of significance is visible on the launch pad or at its associated processing buildings, fuel/oxidizer bunkers and gantry tower. Construction, however, has continued on the new structure approximately 50 m to the southeast of the launch pad. The arrangement of the internal and external walls of this structure suggests an office complex with a footprint of approximately 1,050 m2. Its close proximity to the launch pad and processing buildings may mean that it is related to launch operations support.

Figure 2. New structure under construction near the launch pad.

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Figure 3. Close-up of construction work near the launch pad.

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Figure 4. Close-up of gantry tower and fuel and oxidizer storage bunkers at the launch pad.

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Construction of what appears to be a guard barracks 1,000 m northwest of the launch pad is complete with fish ponds, greenhouses and gardens.

At the Horizontal Processing Building, a small (15 m by 5 m) structure that has been under construction since August 2017 is complete and several small vehicles or shipping crates have been observed there on occasion.

Figure 5. New structure complete at Horizontal Processing Building.

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At the Satellite Control Building to the southeast, construction is complete on a monument and associated garden.

Figure 6. New monument and garden complete at Satellite Control Building.

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The rebuilding of the facility’s support and warehouse area 1,900 m northeast of the launch pad continues and the original housing and administration building was razed during November-December.

Figure 7. Building razed at support and warehouse area.

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Several small vehicles have been seen near the main facility entrance and checkpoint, as well as near the Administration and Headquarters buildings.

Figure 8. Close-up of the main entrance and checkpoint of the facility.

Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.Figure 9. Small vehicle at the Administration and Headquarters area.

Image © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.Grain drying and other agricultural activities are taking place at the National Aerospace Development Agency (NADA) buildings, VIP housing area, rail station or other small buildings around the facility.

Figure 10. Grain drying at NADA helipad.

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  1. [1]

    See: “N. Korea Defends Space Development as ‘Legitimate Right’,” Yonhap, December 25, 2017, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2017/12/25/60/0401000000AEN20171225002051315F.html; Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Won’t Stop Its Arms Tests Anytime Soon, South Korea Warns,” New York Times, December 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/26/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-missile-tests.html; Jeong Yong-soo and Lee Sung-eun, “Pyongyang Readies to Launch Satellite,” Joongang Ilbo, December 27, 2017, http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3042529; and Chandran, Nyshka, “North Korea may Test a Reconnaissance Satellite that can Transmit Data to Earth,” CNBC, December 27, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/26/north-korea-may-test-new-recon-satellite-south-korea-media-report.html.

  2. [1] An examination of commercial satellite imagery from November 23, December 25 and December 31 shows no indications of preparations for a new satellite launch mission at Sohae, where all satellite launches have taken place since 2012. There are, however, several indicators that suggest preparations for an upcoming rocket engine test at the facility’s vertical engine test stand.

38north.org · by 38 North · January 4, 2018

 

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