Unannounced Engine Test and Continued Construction at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station
- Since our last report, significant construction activity has taken place within the Sohae Satellite Launching Station as part of the modernization and development project announced by Kim Jong-un on March 11, 2022.
- Ground scarring and burnt vegetation at the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand indicate that there has probably been an unannounced engine test since our last report.
- This construction activity is currently centered upon the launch pad, Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand, and the new construction warehouse and support compound.
- Significantly, most of the fuel/oxidizer storage buildings at the launch pad are being either razed or rebuilt and are non-operational, indicating that it is extremely unlikely that a new satellite launch will be conducted from the launch pad in the immediate future.
Sohae Satellite Launching Station
As noted in our April 13 and July 20, 2022, reports, Kim Jong-un ordered a modernization and development project of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in late 2021 and subsequently conducted an inspection tour of the facility on March 11, 2022. A Maxar satellite image acquired on August 31, 2022, shows that this modernization and development project is proceeding rapidly and has made significant progress over the past two months.1
Construction of the large rail-served warehouse approximately 375-meters north (outside) of the launch station’s entrance that began sometime about June 8, 2022, is now generally complete, although a few construction vehicles remain on site. Immediately east of the new warehouse is a small building with a greenhouse and four circular gardens, built sometime between July 17 and August 23, 2022. Given their close proximity and location, these facilities are intended to support the modernization and development project within the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
No activity of significance is observed at the launch station’s entrance and checkpoint, administration and security headquarters, or covered rail terminal. At the horizontal processing building, the unidentified object that was present here in our last report is no longer there. Recently, a large pile of sand has been deposited on the building’s exit road to the south leading towards the launch pad. The presence of this pile and the lack of other activity indicates that the facility is not currently in use.
In the shallow valley to the east of the horizontal processing building are the VIP housing buildings and the former General Satellite Control and Command Center, sometimes identified as the Satellite Processing Building. No activity of significance is noted here, although the trailer or shipping crate seen here in our last report is no longer present, and the dirt trail leading up to the loop road around the area has now been generally reclaimed by vegetation. The short road extending south from this to a small circular clearing remains unchanged. However, a similar road and clearing on the opposite side of the ridgeline now contains a small building under construction.
Due to clouds, most of the excavation sites on the loop road observed in out last report are not visible in the August 31 image. However, the southern excavation is partially visible through a gap in these clouds and appears to have been expanded. A source has noted that its size and orientation are similar to those of a clearing on the opposite side of the ridge to the east, suggesting that these excavations could be for a future underground facility.2 Whether this is correct remains to be seen.
In our previous report, we noted that ground clearing was underway for a probable new support compound south of the VIP Housing Area and 160-meters east of the intersection of the main access road with that leading to the launch pad. The August 31 image shows that the ground clearing has expanded slightly, but no construction has taken place.3 Immediately south and across the access road from this location, new excavation work is underway in the streambed. This may represent a response to minor flooding from the heavy rains experienced during the past month.
Approximately 325-meters southeast of this location is the facility’s launch pad. There has been significant construction activity here since our last report. Most notable has been the clearing of ground cover over the various fuel/oxidizer storage buildings and removing of some of their roofs and storage tanks. These buildings are either being razed or rebuilt—it is too early to determine which is being undertaken. Accompanying this, supplies and equipment (potentially the fuel/oxidizer tanks removed from the storage buildings) are seen distributed along the south side of the pad, and a crane and several trucks are present. As most of the fuel/oxidizer storage buildings are in the process of being razed or rebuilt, they are non-operational, indicating that it is extremely unlikely that a new satellite launch will be conducted from the launch pad in the immediate future.4
At the southwest corner of the fuel/oxidizer storage area, a small camera/instrumentation building has been removed. Replacing the building is apparent construction for a new road that will curve around and above the site.
New excavation work is noted along the northwest corner of the launch pad. It is presently unclear what the purpose of this work is. Similar to the work in the streambed noted above, it may be a response to the recent heavy rains. No activity of significance is observed at the engineering and support buildings, rail-mounted transfer structure, processing building, or umbilical tower.
The construction housing and support compound east of the launch pad area and 650-meters north of the test stand remains active with six trucks or construction vehicles present.
While no activity has been noted at the Yunsong Vertical Engine Test Stand’s fuel/oxidizer buildings or support buildings since our July 20, 2022 report, all the equipment and trailers that have previously been parked on the concrete apron have been removed. Combined with light scarring in the base of the exhaust deflector and recently burnt vegetation further outside the deflector indicates that there has been an unannounced engine test in recent weeks. The burnt vegetation contrasts with the lush vegetation around the test stand and distinct erosion immediately to the south caused by heavy rains experienced during the past month.
No significant activity is observed at the small support compound 250-meters to the north of the test stand or the VIP observation building, approximately 425-meters northwest of it.
Approximately 440-meters northwest of the launch pad is a new construction warehouse and support compound that has continued to develop since our last report. At present, it consists of at least 70 buildings constructed or under construction. These include what appear to be for administration, housing, workshops, warehouses, and a motor vehicle maintenance and storage area.5
The Village of Changya-dong
In addition to the developments observed above, the modernization and expansion project in the small village of Changya-dong east of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station continues.
For readers who are interested, an image map of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station can be found here.
- While this report was in publication review, an article discussing updates to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station was published by NK News. While that article was not used in the preparation of the present report, readers are encouraged to also read the article by NK News here. ↩
- Interview data acquired by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. ↩
- Previously, there was a large worker housing compound here that was razed sometime between 2002 and 2012. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩