Continuing Construction Progress at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station
- Dramatic and ongoing construction progress continues throughout the eastern and central sections of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
- Additions to the Sohae area include a new earth and rock jetty approximately 2 kilometers southeast of the station and in the village of Yunsong. While construction is still underway, it may be for a new maritime light to aid navigation or to support the ongoing construction project at Sohae.
- The expansion of fuel/oxidizer storage, the addition of cooling water tanks, refurbishment of the umbilical tower and launch table, and other developments in the launch pad area support the long-term goal of launching larger and more capable space launch vehicles set forth by Kim Jong-un last year.
- While the launch pad is not capable of conducting any launches at present, the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand and Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand appear operational.
- If all the announced modernization plans are completed and operational, it will provide North Korea with a comprehensive complex capable of developing and launching larger and more sophisticated satellite launch vehicles (SLV) and support technology development useable by North Korea’s emerging intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programs.
A satellite image collected on January 18, 2023, provides an opportunity to update the status of the ongoing construction at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.1 As with our previous report, all activity observed in the current image is situated within the central and eastern sections of the facility. No new construction activity of note has been observed in the western half.
Only minor activity is observed among the facilities located within the northern section of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The rail-served warehouse facility is quiet, as is the main entrance and checkpoint. At the administration and security headquarters area, a telescoping crane and a small bus or van are present in the courtyard, which has been typical over the past three months. The open-air storage facility across the road from the headquarters is now empty. Immediately south of the headquarters, the sand/gravel pile at the temporary railroad unloading point continues to show minor changes in size and shape. However, no railcars are present, and no activity is observed at or around the covered rail station, as is typically the case.
Horizontal Processing Building Area
Signs of activity continue to be observed throughout the horizontal processing building area. Small stacks of building supplies and/or equipment continue to be moved into and out of the courtyard on the northwest corner of the horizontal processing building. Additionally, the pile of soil/gravel on the access road leading south from the building continues to change size, shape, and composition, indicating ongoing use.
Immediately west of the horizontal processing building and on the opposite side of the small ridge, a small compound that began construction last month is nearing completion. At present, the compound appears to be for housing and construction support. Between 2005 and 2014, this area was used as a motor pool to support the movement of satellite launch vehicle components before being razed in late 2014.
Former General Satellite Control and Command Center and VIP Housing Area
As noted in our reports over the past few months, construction of a large new facility has been underway on the site of the razed General Satellite Control and Command Center. The January 18, 2023, image shows recent road and grading activity. However, the construction on the building itself appears to have temporarily slowed significantly. At present, it seems that the new facility will serve as a processing (integration) building for larger space launch vehicles and their payloads in the future.
No activity is observed at the two buildings in this area that were formerly used for VIP housing.
Tunnel/Underground Facility Project
In our September 2022 report, we described the beginning of an unidentified new construction project consisting of two large excavation sites on either side of the ridge separating the Sohae Satellite Launch Station from the village of Changya-dong. As of January 18, 2023, each of the locations has continued to develop.
At the west site, several small buildings above the excavation have been completed, a temporary building has been removed, workers are seen within and around the excavation, grading operations are continuing, and construction equipment is present. Most significantly, work has recently begun for an apparent new road running from the entrance of the excavation west downhill to the new processing (integration) building area.
At the east site, workers are seen both within and around the excavation. Recent excavation/grading activity is apparent—especially along the main road leading from the entrance of the excavation east towards the village of Changya-dong.
As best as can presently be determined, this project is for a large tunnel, potentially with an underground facility (UGF). It is also conceivable that it is for one of the “…facilities for the general assembly and trial gearing of rocket and for the trial gearing of satellite…” mentioned by Kim Jong-un during his March 11, 2022, speech, or a yet-announced facility.2
Construction Support Compound and Storage Areas
On the ridge immediately south of the new facility processing (integration) building, a small L-shaped building is now complete after four months of construction. The purpose of this structure is yet unclear. Approximately 400-500 meters west and below this building were several open-air storage areas razed in November. These areas and the surrounding large open areas were subsequently graded, and trees and shrubs were planted as part of an ongoing beautification program.
Located approximately 400-meters northwest of the launch pad are a construction support compound and several open-air storage facilities that now consist of approximately 40 structures, including administration, housing, workshops, warehouses, sheds, and a motor vehicle maintenance and storage area.3 Activity is noted throughout these areas, and the open-air storage areas show changes to the size, shape, and number of supplies and equipment present. Between this support compound and the launch pad, a small facility consisting of two buildings began construction several months ago. Construction has been temporarily suspended, with only the walls completed.
In the launch pad area, the January 18, 2023, image shows that while work on the water tanks and the rebuilding of the fuel/oxidizer buildings is temporarily suspended, work continues on and around the umbilical tower, launch pad, rail-mounted transfer structure, and processing building.
At the northwest corner of the launch pad near the railroad entrance to the underground terminal, the construction activity observed in our last report appears to have been largely completed. On the pad, various pieces of equipment and bundles of supplies continue to change in size and composition. What appears to be an approximately 6.5-meters in diameter circular component for the rail-mounted launch table is present on the pad adjacent to the umbilical tower suggesting continuing work on the table. Along the north side of the pad is a collection of prefabricated steel framework components. Likely for use on the umbilical tower or in the rail-mounted transfer structure. The latter was stripped of its roof, siding, and wall.
The supplies previously seen on the east side of the launch pad’s processing building are no longer present, and no other activities of significance are observed here or at the adjacent engineering and launch support buildings. Notably, however, the current image provides a rare opportunity for a partial look down into the underground rail transfer terminal and the processing building’s bay door.
The nature and extent of all this construction activity on the launch pad and umbilical tower precludes their use for a satellite launch in the near future.
Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand
While no activity of significance is observed at the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand or associated fuel/oxidizer and support buildings in the latest image, the apron remains partially covered with dirt excavated from nearby road construction, and several small pieces of equipment are present. It is highly likely that the stand could be used for testing with minimum effort should a decision to do is made.
Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand
As is evident by the December 16, 2022, test of what appears to be a new model of solid rocket motor, the Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand is fully functional and capable of conducting a new test should the decision be made to do so.4 Despite this, work is continuing to finish the overall facility and supplies and personnel are observed adjacent to it and along the access road leading to it. Some of these supplies are likely for use at the new construction site approximately 200 meters north of it.
New Construction Site Near Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand
As noted above, satellite imagery from January 18, 2023, shows that a new construction site has been established approximately 200 meters north of the Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand and using the same access road. This construction activity began sometime between December 19, 2022, and January 16, 2023. Similar to the Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand, this new construction is currently located on the south side of a ridgeline. It is too early to speculate on the purpose of this new construction.
New Facility Adjacent to Security Barracks
Construction activity adjacent to the security barracks in the southeast corner of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station that began sometime during the last week in August 2022 appears to have been temporarily suspended, although work on the road network leading to it continues. This approximately 53-meter-by-84-meter facility is cut into the hillside and consists of a walled compound with three buildings. While two of the buildings are closed-in, the largest is a high-bay building that has yet to be roofed. Previous imagery shows that one of the other buildings contains five bays, which suggests it is either a warehouse or a motor vehicle garage. Immediately outside the walled facility are two large excavations intended for presently unknown purposes. The intended function of this new facility is unknown, although its position close to the test stands suggests it is a support facility.
Approximately 425 meters southeast of this new facility is what may be a construction site for a new facility or a small dirt and gravel quarry, although it is too early to make a determination.
Finally, approximately 2 kilometers further southeast of this site in the village of Yunsong, construction of what presently appears to be a new earth and rock jetty has been slowly ongoing for several months, which currently measures approximately 90 meters by 12 meters. While this may simply be a new maritime light (i.e., aid to navigation) as suggested by the tall unidentified object at its end, it could also be somehow related to the ongoing Sohae construction project.
Elsewhere at the Facility
Little activity of significance is observed at other locations within the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, including the dirt roads on the west side of the facility, National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) Launch Control and Observation building, the second NADA building, the associated helicopter landing pad, livestock facility at Komun-dong, warehouse facility, and miscellaneous support buildings. Although these locations show little activity of significance, they continue to be actively maintained.
- The images in this report have been rotated to look angle to ease readability. ↩
- “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” Rodong Sinmun, March 11, 2022. ↩
- As noted in previous reports this location was originally the site of the tiny hamlet of Kwi-gol that was razed several times during the original construction and early development of the launch station. ↩
- While the public name of this facility is unknown, we are provisionally using “Yunsong Horizontal Engine Test Stand” due to its close proximity to the older Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand. ↩