Dramatic Progress of New Construction at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station
This post was last updated on October 31, 2022.
- Dramatic and ongoing modernization plans at Sohae Satellite Launching Station will provide North Korea with a relatively comprehensive complex capable of launching larger and more sophisticated satellite launch vehicles (SLV) and support technology development also useable by North Korea’s emerging intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programs.
- Construction progress continues throughout the eastern half of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station as part of the modernization and development project announced by Kim Jong-un on March 11, 2022.
- Over the past two months, this activity has expanded beyond the launch pad area and now includes the razing of the former General Satellite Control and Command Center, a new facility immediately to the west of the former center, a large underground facility or tunnel, a new facility in the southeast corner of the launching station, and more.
- At present, the launch pad is not capable of conducting any launches. However, the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand appears fully functional.
Satellite imagery collected on October 4, 17, and 25, 2022, show dramatic and ongoing construction progress throughout the eastern half of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. To date, no significant new construction activity other than that mentioned in our April 22, 2022, report has been observed in the western half of the launch station. The extent of this construction activity at the launch pad precludes any satellite launched in the near future. The Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand appears fully functional and capable of conducting engine tests should Kim Jong-un decide to authorize one. Moving from north to south of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the following sections discuss the major developments observed during October 2022.
While just outside the facility security perimeter, the new rail-served warehouse was undoubtedly built to provide for the movement of greater quantities of material and equipment to the launch station, not only for construction purposes but also in support of future launch operations. The warehouse itself was externally completed by October 4, 2022. However, an October 17, 2022, image shows that additional sheds were built alongside and immediately south of the main warehouse, and paving of the loading/unloading area was underway. Subsequently an image acquired on October 25, 2022, shows an unexpected and not easily explainable missing section of the roof. One side of this opening is ragged, yet there is no indication of an explosion or fire.
Administration and Security Headquarters and Entrance
Imagery throughout October shows no significant activity at the launch station’s entrance and checkpoint, while the administration and security headquarters area and the open-air storage facility across from it remain active. Vehicles have been observed in the administration and security headquarters courtyard in all images. Most recently, the October 25, 2022, image shows a small bus and a telescoping crane in the courtyard. Across the road, the open-air storage facility shows ongoing changes to the size, shape, and number of supplies present.
Rail Unloading Point
Immediately south of the administration and security headquarters area and along the facility rail spur line, a temporary sand/gravel unloading point has been established. Side dump ore railcars are sited along this small section of track and dump their loads off the east side of the track, sometimes into waiting dump trucks and other times onto a growing pile of sand/gravel. Rail cars are present in all October images. The October 25 image shows six railcars and a dump truck present.
Horizontal Processing Building
Except for an occasional vehicle or two, no activity of significance was noted in October at either the covered rail station or the horizontal processing building. Piles of sand/gravel are present at the beginning and end of the south access road to the horizontal processing building. The large pile at the end of the access road has changed size and color as sand/gravel has been added or removed.
Former General Satellite Control and Command Center and VIP Housing Area
Dramatic changes took place in the former General Satellite Control and Command Center and VIP housing area in October. The October 25, 2022, image shows that the General Satellite Control and Command Center has been razed, leaving only a monument. Immediately to the west of this, a large area has been excavated, filled, and graded flat, and a large facility with support structures is under construction. A partial security wall has been erected around part of the construction site. The intended function of these new buildings is unclear. On the opposite side of the road in the VIP housing area, two motor vehicles are present.
On the ridge immediately south of the former General Satellite Control and Command Center and VIP housing area, a small building has been under construction since August. The building appears to be externally complete in the latest image. While the purpose of this structure is unknown, its location overlooking the construction activity at the launch pad and surrounding area suggests that it may be to provide construction managers, engineers, and architects a view of ongoing construction progress. Its location would also provide an excellent position for cameras, instrumentation, or observers to observe launches once construction is complete.
Approximately 400 meters west and below this building is an open-air storage facility that supports construction at the launch pad. Throughout October, the area shows ongoing changes to the size, shape, and number of supplies present.
Unidentified Construction Project
In our September 2022 report, we described an unidentified 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 to the east of the VIP housing area. At that time, we noted that both sites were of the same general size and shape and aligned to one another, suggesting that these were for a common purpose. Construction progress on this project has continued rapidly throughout October at both the east and west excavation locations. As of October 25, 2022, each location consists of a two-section arch roof structure that has been poured and room for an additional section. At the west construction site, the combined arch structures measure approximately 30-by-17-meters overall. While at the east site these measure approximately 63-by-17-meters overall.
What has been truly impressive is that hundreds of workers have apparently been excavating and pouring concrete largely by hand, as few large and mechanized construction equipment have been observed in any of the imagery. Also visible in the October 25, 2022, image of the west side excavation are several small excavations, one of which has walls. At the east side excavation site, a dirt road or informal trail to connect the two sites appears to be under construction.
An assessment that the unidentified construction project is for a large tunnel is now unsatisfactory as there is no overwhelming need for one at this location. Instead, the assessment that it is for a large underground facility (UGF) is more viable, yet the observed construction is not the method North Korea has historically used to construct UGFs. As a result, the purpose of this construction project remains unclear at this time, although it is undoubtedly for one of the facilities that Kim Jong-un mentioned during his March 11, 2022, speech, such as “…facilities for the general assembly and trial gearing of rocket and for the trial gearing of satellite…” or some yet unannounced facility.1
Construction Support Compound and Storage Areas
Located approximately 400-meters northwest of the launch pad is a dispersed construction support compound and several open-air storage facilities that continue to develop. The compound consists of approximately 80 structures, some under construction, for administration, housing, workshops, warehouses, sheds, a motor vehicle maintenance and storage area, and several open-air storage areas to the north.2 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.
Located approximately 300-meters northwest of the launch pad, a small facility consisting of two buildings is under construction. A road leads to it over a new small bridge and directly from the launch pad.
All satellite image acquired during October shows continuing progress with the modernization and development project on and around the launch pad. This activity initially centered on razing the existing fuel/oxidizer storage buildings. It has now expanded to construct new larger fuel/oxidizer storage buildings and the two large approximately 13.5-meters in diameter tanks above the launch pad. The most likely purpose for these tanks appears to be to provide cooling water to the exhaust deflector during launches.
On the launch pad itself, supplies, and equipment continue to accumulate and change in size and composition. Notable is the presence of the disassembled rail-mounted launch table adjacent to the umbilical tower. This and the presence of miscellaneous equipment at the base of the tower suggest that work is also being undertaken on the umbilical tower itself. Elsewhere on the pad, the rail-mounted transfer table has been moved, exposing the opening to the underground rail transfer station. This latter action, along with excavation and construction activity and removal of a short section of railroad tracks at the entrance to the underground rail transfer station indicate that work to it is also underway.
No activities of significance are observed at the processing building on the launch pad or the adjacent engineering and launch support buildings.
Overall, the significant expansion of fuel/oxidizer storage, addition of cooling water tanks, 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 during his March 11, 2022, inspection of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station facility.3 The state of the launch pad, as of October 25, 2022, precludes its use for conducting a new satellite launch in the near future.4
Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand
Minor activity was observed at the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test in October 2022. This activity includes the completion by October 25, 2022, of the first phase construction for the road from the test stand to the new structures adjacent to the security barracks to the northeast. The presence of occasional vehicles on the test stand’s apron is noted and is likely related to road construction. What appears to be damage—potentially the first stages of the building being razed—to the roof of the small support building immediately north of the test stand.5
New Buildings at Security Barracks
Significant development is observed at the construction activity adjacent to the security barracks in the southeast corner of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station and northeast of the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test. This construction, which began sometime around the last week in August 2022, now appears to be two buildings on a site excavated into the hillside and supported by retaining walls. This new site is connected to the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test by a dirt road under construction since July 2022. The intended function of these new buildings is unclear. As with the large excavation project to the north, over 100 workers have apparently been excavating and pouring concrete largely by hand and without the aid of a significant number of large and mechanized construction equipment.
Elsewhere at the Facility
Little activity of significance is observed at other locations within the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, including the new dirt roads on the west side of the facility or at the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) Launch Control and Observation building, second NADA building, the associated helicopter landing pad, the livestock facility at Komun-dong, the warehouse facility, and miscellaneous support buildings. Although these locations show little activity of significance, they continue to be actively maintained.
- “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” Rodong Sinmun, March 11, 2022. ↩
- 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. ↩
- “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” Rodong Sinmun, March 11, 2022. ↩
- As noted in previous reports, although it has never done so, North Korea has the capability to bring a ballistic missile (as opposed to a satellite launch vehicle) mounted on a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) to the pad and conduct a launch. ↩
- The precise function of this building is unclear. It has often been cited as a fuel/oxidizer storage building. It, however, could also be used to supply cooling water to the test stand or some other purpose. ↩