Location of KN-08 Reentry Vehicle Nosecone Test Identified

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Henry Kan.

On March 15, North Korean media carried photographs of Kim Jong Un as he observed and guided a test of the nose cone for what appears to be the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reentry vehicle. The photographs show a vertical engine test stand that, while similar in structure to those at the Sohae and Tonghae Satellite Launch Facilities, is considerably smaller and more rudimentary. While the location of the test was not revealed, it appears that this test was conducted from the vertical engine test stand at the Chamjin Missile Factory southwest of Pyongyang, one of North Korea’s primary missile production facilities.[1] Some experts believe that this factory was also the site of Kim Jong Un’s recent photo inspecting a nuclear warhead.

Figure 1. Location of the Chamjin Missile Factory.

Figure 1. Location of the Chamjin Missile Factory.
Locations provided by Curtis Melvin.

Test Stand Capabilities

The vertical engine test stand at the Chamjin complex is located approximately 500 meters southwest of the main production facility. The test stand consists of a 17-meter circular support pad connected to a 22-meter by 15-meter rectangular access ramp, a 25-meter-tall vertical engine test stand as well as approximately six support buildings. It can hold an engine for the Scud short-range ballistic missile as well as a complete missile in the vertical position. It can also hold a larger engine for the longer-range Nodong, although probably not a complete missile.

Figure 2. Overview of the Chamjin Missile Factory and vertical engine test stand.
Note: The numbers indicate the direction in which the photographs listed below were taken.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Geolocation of the Nose Cone Test Site

By comparing the recently published photographs and commercial satellite imagery, there are several indicators that support the conclusion that this test was conducted at the Chamjin Missile Factory’s vertical engine test stand. First, the size and construction of the test stand (which has recently undergone refurbishment) match, as viewed looking east, including the presence of a silver tank on the support ramp.

Figure 3. Looking east at the vertical engine test stand during Kim Jong Un’s tour of the facility.

(Photo: KCTV)
(Photo: KCTV)

An access ramp facing west is also visible in an image looking southeast at the test stand during the KN-08 nose cone test.

Figure 4. Looking southeast at the test stand during the KN-08 nose cone test.

(Photo: KCTV/Reuters)

The photographs show the nose cone positioned approximately 1.5 meters below a Scud rocket engine both before and during the test. An image looking east at the KN-08 nose cone before the test also shows how close the ravine wall is to the test stand.

Figure 5. KN-08 nose cone before the test.

(Photo: KCTV)
(Photo: KCTV)

The vertical engine test stand, access ramp facing west, and the ravine wall directly to the east of the stand are all visible in satellite imagery of the area from February 20.

Figure 6. Close up of the vertical engine test stand six weeks before the KN-08 test.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Photographs of Kim Jong Un viewing the nose cone test at an observation point approximately 500 meters north of the test stand further confirm the location. Apartment buildings can be seen in the background of the first image looking north.

Figure 7. Image looking north of Kim Jong Un’s observation point.

(Photo: KCTV)
(Photo: KCTV)

In a second image looking west at the observation point, Kim Jong Un’s motorcade, the road and a line of trees can be seen in the background.

Figure 8. Image looking west at Kim Jong Un’s observation point.

(Photo: KCTV)
(Photo: KCTV)

In another image, a tall hill is visible to the northeast of Kim’s position.

Figure 9. Image looking northeast at Kim Jong Un’s observation point.

(Photo: KCTV)
(Photo: KCTV)

Note: In the satellite imagery, the hill is outside the scope of the area pictured but is northeast of this viewing area.

Figure 10. Satellite imagery of Kim Jong Un’s observation point.
Note: The numbers indicate the direction in which the photographs were taken.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

A Post-Test Examination

Additional photographs show Kim examining the nose cone, which has a crude template on top that indicates the amount of ablation incurred during the test.[2]

Figure 11. Kim Jong Un inspecting the nose cone.

(Photo: Rodong Sinmun)
(Photo: Rodong Sinmun)

Whether the reentry vehicle test was successful remains unclear although the report and accompanying photographs are, not surprisingly, designed to show that it was and leave the impression that North Korea possesses a viable ICBM reentry vehicle.

 

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[1] Although the current official name for the factory is unknown it has been variously identified in South Korean and foreign media reports as the Chamjin Munitions Factory, Chamjil Missile Factory, Chamjin Guided Missile Plant and the Taesung Machine Factory.

[2] As the reentry vehicle reenters the Earth’s atmosphere, it heats up due to friction and begins to “ablate” or burn off material from the nose cone, exchanging mass for heat loss.

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