Analysis, Military, Nuclear Weapons

Sohae Launch Facility Update—Work Continues; Concealment of Launch Pad and Engine Test Stand

Key Findings

  • Commercial satellite imagery acquired on both March 6 and March 8, 2019, shows that North Korea has continued preparations on the launch pad and the vertical engine test stand at the Sohae Launch Facility.
  • Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or, they could be North Korean coercive bargaining tactics after the failed Hanoi summit.
  • Activities at both the launch pad and engine test stand, including the positioning of rail mounted structures adjacent at these facilities could be attempts to shroud preparations for stacking stages of a rocket (for a new satellite launch) or engine testing with the caveats noted above.
  • North Korea is banned by numerous UN Security Council resolutions (e.g., UNSCR 2087) from carrying out rocket launches from this facility.
  • Launch Pad: The rail mounted transfer/processing structure has been repositioned back adjacent to the processing building and over the underground rail transfer point (used to conceal delivery of rocket components). The environmental covers around the umbilical tower have also been closed on the launch tower. Thereby, concealing any activity within them.
  • Vertical Engine Test Stand: Environmental panels on the vertical test engine stand superstructure have been installed. The rail-mounted processing/environmental shelter—used in the past to both protect rocket engines while they are being prepared for placement in the test stand and to hide any activity from overhead reconnaissance assets—has also been assembled and positioned adjacent to the test stand.

Sohae (Tongchang-ri) Launch Facility

 


The vertical engine test stand as seen on March 8, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus) (Click each image to view larger size)


The launch pad as seen on March 8, 2019. (Copyright © 2019 by Airbus)

This site will be monitored for further activity consistent with readying the launch facility for possible use in the future.