Military

Ongoing Construction Activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station

Key Findings

  • Significant construction continues to take place within the Sohae Satellite Launching Station as part of the modernization and development project announced by Kim Jong-un on March 11, 2022.
  • This construction activity is centered upon expanding the fuel/oxidizer storage capacity at the launch pad to allow for the launching of larger and more capable space launch vehicles and two construction sites for what may be a large underground facility or one of the projects Kim Jong-un mentioned on March 11, 2022.
  • Significantly, as all the fuel/oxidizer storage buildings at the launch pad have been razed, it is extremely unlikely that a new satellite launch will be conducted from the launch pad in the immediate future.

Launch Pad

A Planet satellite image acquired on September 9, 2022, shows the continuing progress of the modernization and development project at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station. This activity is centered upon expanding the fuel/oxidizer storage capacity at the launch pad to allow for the launching of larger and more capable space launch vehicles and the construction of what currently appears to be a large underground facility or one of the projects Kim Jong-un mentioned on March 11, 2022.

Overview of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station on September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

As noted in our previous report, the construction activities at the launch pad revolve around the razing (including the removal of ground cover over them), rebuilding, and expanding the pad’s fuel/oxidizer storage buildings. This activity is not only continuing but also expanding. Most recently, the roofs of the final two storage buildings have been removed, and a large section of ground has been cleared immediately to the west. This ground clearing joins previously reported road construction up the ridge south of the launch pad. This activity indicates a major expansion of fuel/oxidizer storage and probable support activities in the immediate area. This supports 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.

An overview of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station’s launch pad area, September 6, 2022, showing the ongoing razing of the fuel/oxidizer buildings, ground clearing, and accumulation of supplies and equipment on the launch pad. Also visible is the low-level construction work near the northwest corner of the launch pad. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

Accompanying these developments, supplies, and equipment continue to accumulate on the launch pad itself. No activity of significance is observed at the engineering and support buildings, rail-mounted transfer structure, processing building, or umbilical tower.

Taken as a whole, the current state of the launch pad indicates that it is extremely unlikely that a new satellite launch will be conducted from the launch pad in the immediate future.1

Close-up view of the ongoing razing of the fuel/oxidizer buildings, ground clearing, and accumulation of supplies and equipment on the launch pad, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

Low-level construction activity continues to be observed in the streambed on the northwest corner of the launch pad. This includes the construction of a small bridge or culvert and ongoing grading.

New Facilities?

The same September 6, 2022, image shows the progress at several excavation sites located 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. Notably, two of these are large excavations of the same general size and shape and aligned to one another. This has led to the suggestion that they are for a future underground facility (UGF); however, they could equally be for some of the facilities that Kim Jong-un mentioned during his March 11, 2022, inspection, such as “…facilities for the general assembly and trial gearing of rocket and for the trial gearing of satellite…” or some as yet unannounced facility.2 Also visible in the latest image is a dirt road under construction on the east side, likely an improvement of an existing trail, and several small excavations on the west side of the ridge.

Overview of the two excavations on either side of the ridge separating the Sohae Launch Station and the village of Changya-dong, September 6, 2022. These presently appear to be for a future underground facility. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.
Closeup of the excavation on the west side of the ridge separating the Sohae Launch Station and the village of Changya-dong. Note the additional smaller excavations, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.
Closeup of the excavation on the east side of the ridge separating the Sohae Launch Station and the village of Changya-dong that also shows a dirt road under construction, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

Elsewhere at the Facility

As noted in our previous report, the construction of the new rail-served warehouse outside the launch station’s entrance is now generally complete, barring some grading and paving work.

The new rail-served warehouse and building north of the launch station’s main entrance and checkpoint, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

No activity of significance is observed at the launch station’s entrance and checkpoint, covered rail terminal, or the horizontal processing building, although the large pile of sand covering the exit road noted in our last reports remains. Several vehicles are observed at the administration and security headquarters, along with some minor activity in the area immediately to its east.

The administration and security headquarters area showing the presence of two vehicles and the ongoing activity on the opposite side of the main access road, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

No significant construction activity is observed in the VIP housing area or at the former General Satellite Control and Command Center. However, what appears to be four motor vehicles are present at one of the VIP buildings.

The VIP Housing Area and former General Satellite Control and Command Center, September 6, 2022. Four vehicles are present at one of the buildings. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

As noted in our last report, a small building is under construction on the ridge immediately south of the VIP housing area. The purpose of this structure is unclear. However, it provides an excellent position for cameras, instrumentation, or observers to observe all activities on the launch pad. Downhill and to the west of this, minor activity is noted in the area that had been previously cleared.3

The new building under construction and foundation excavations in the area immediately south of the VIP housing area, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

Northwest of the launch pad is a new construction warehouse and support compound that continues to develop. At present, it consists of approximately 80 structures, some under construction, for administration, housing, workshops, warehouses, sheds, and a motor vehicle maintenance and storage area, as well as some open-air storage.4

View of the construction warehouse and support compound northwest of the launch pad area, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

The construction housing and support compound to the east of the launch pad area remains active, with five trucks or construction vehicles observed in the September 6 image.

Close-up view of the construction housing and support compound east of the launch pad area, September 6, 2022. Five construction vehicles are present. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

No activity of significance has been noted at the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand since our last report. Erosion is observed along the unfinished road constructed in July that will connect the test stand to the security barracks on the east side of the perimeter. There has been no change to the excavation activity at this security barracks since it was first observed during the last week of August. There are no clear indications of why either the construction of the new road or the excavation activity at the security barracks were undertaken. No activity is observed at the small support compound north of the test stand or the VIP observation buildings northwest of it.

Overview of the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand showing the road constructed in July, which connects the test stand to the security barracks on the east side of the perimeter, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.
Close-up view of the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand, September 6, 2022. Click to enlarge. (Copyright © 2022 by Planet) Image may not be republished without permission. Please contact imagery@csis.org.

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.

In addition to the above, the development project previously observed in the village of Changya-dong, east of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, appears to be generally complete. However, there will likely be additional developments related to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, such as the construction of the potential UGF and adjustments to the security perimeter.

For readers who are interested, an image map of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station prepared earlier this year can be found here.

References

  1. As noted previously, 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.
  2. “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” Rodong Sinmun, March 11, 2022.
  3. Previously, there was a large worker housing compound here that was razed sometime between 2002 and 2012.
  4. 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.